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Obama’s Dilemma! - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The President of the United States wants to bring an end his country’s military presence in both Iraq and Afghanistan. This has already begun in Baghdad and a timetable has been set in this regard. Obama has also disclosed his strategy for Afghanistan and the most prominent [features] of this is the sending of 30,000 troops and the withdrawal of the forces in three years time. What Obama wants is control on the ground and to defeat the Taliban and Al Qaeda and he is hoping that Karzai’s government will continue to build the state and fight corruption.

This sums up Obama’s crisis, whether in Iraq or Afghanistan, as the US president is dealing with two states that are as far away as possible from democracy and [from being] institutionalized states with democratic and institutional approaches. This [approach] might be acceptable to the American taxpayer or legislator, but it is meaningless to the Iraqis or the Afghans.

Obama’s problem is that in Afghanistan he is repeating the mistakes of George W. Bush [in Iraq] who believed that as soon as the Saddam Hussein regime fell, Iraq would be able to stand on its own feet democratically and that it would change the entire region. But matters are not progressing in this direction in Iraq that has known only dictatorship for an entire four decades. Dictatorship in Iraq or elsewhere in our region is not based on individual behaviour but on a different collective culture; if not then what is the difference between the logic of those ruling Iraq today and the logic of Saddam Hussein, let alone [the logic] of some Iraqi elites that are beginning to look like they are members of the Iranian embassy in Baghdad and not members of the Iraqi parliament!

With regards to Afghanistan, the situation is even worse, as Obama is dealing with what has been a failed state for decades. It does not even have the features of a state, let alone democracy. This is where Obama’s dilemma lies; Afghanistan does not need more forces and a timetable for withdrawal and cooperation from Karzai who won elections that have been called into question anyway…what Afghanistan needs is a strong army and to build institutions over no less than five years and then begin to work towards unconditional democratic activity, which can be called “closed” democracy.

Afghanistan is in need of an army enforcing control on the country, police forces, schools, an appointed parliament and not an elected one now, media that is not subjected to authority, and a comprehensive reconciliation program. America and its allies will then be equivalent to a guarantor of all of that, and after the country stabilizes in five years then regulation of parties and electoral laws will begin with the guarantee of the continuation of the army as a strong and independent institution in order to defend and guarantee stability and not attacks…[it will be] an army that is based on an ideology similar to that of the Turkish army [which acts] as a guarantor of the political process in the country and this is what was and still is missing in Iraq.

Some might say that it is too late for Iraq; but Obama can still avoid making the same mistake in Afghanistan. The neighboring countries that openly welcomed Obama’s plan cannot guarantee that they will not make Washington’s job difficult behind closed doors, especially as Washington has set a deadline of three years for withdrawal. Therefore the rules of the game in Afghanistan have changed and the most important thing now is not fighting but patience.

Kabul’s neighbours can show patience for another three years as they have shown patience towards the collapsed neighbour for decades and decades.

Therefore we say Obama is facing a dilemma and his plan in Afghanistan is a mistake that resembles, to a large degree, the error of dissolving the army in Iraq under George W. Bush.

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. Mr. Alhomyed has been a guest analyst and commentator on numerous news and current affair programs, and during his distinguished career has held numerous positions at Asharq Al-Awsat, amongst other newspapers. Notably, he was the first journalist to interview Osama Bin Ladin's mother. Mr. Alhomayed holds a bachelor's degree in media studies from King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah. He is based in London.

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