Conflicted on Obama’s Afghanistan Speech?

obama-walkingI got a note today from my friend Carolyn who said,  in response to Obama’s Afghanistan speech: ” I am so conflicted about what US foreign/war policy should be?   By comparison health insurance is easy and clear! ”

I’ve been thinking about Obama’s speech for the last few days. It’s taken me a few days to sort out some of my perspective on it – and it’s a perspective that keeps shifting.

For context, I root myself in the tradition of Catholic pacifism. I’m opposed to war and violence. Whenever we pick up the stick, it represents moral failure and a loss of human dignity. Now, that’s all nice and good except when people do really bad things. Then what? So I also have tried to develop a “pragmatic pacifism” (along the lines of the Justpeacemaking Theory) that is complex enough to address the real world.

From my point of view, Obama’s extension of the military model in Afghanistan is a mistake. An understandable mistake, but a mistake nonetheless.

I understand Carolyn’s “conflictedness” over our Afghanistan foreign policy. On the one hand Obama’s speech was SO MUCH BETTER than anything we ever heard from President Bush that it’s hard to not just be relieved.

Obama says things that are important. He puts them in historical context. He addresses various sides of the argument. He addressed this speech to the one’s who are going to have to carry out the mission and suffer the consequences (cadets at West Point). He was very intentional about repositioning of the U.S. vis a vis global alliances. He moved away from the U.S. vs al Qaida into al Qaida vs the world. All of this stuff is good.

BUT, Obama has inherited an imperial regime and he can’t “un”-imperialize it over night. Also, I’m not totally convinced that anyone who runs for U.S. president wants to un-imperialize us. So Obama’s foreign policy decision is what I’d call “imperialism-lite” — increased troops along with increased aid/diplomacy in a regional approach with a withdrawal timeline. It’s hard to get excited about this approach either pro or con.

I think what’s important to remember is that none of this effectively disrupts members of al Qaida. That’s done effectively through Interpol, the FBI, the UN subcommittee on Al Qaida and the Taliban (and the U.S. still hasn’t paid our UN dues) and other tools aimed at disrupting international criminal networks.

Nothing disrupts the idea of al Qaida except an intensive new narrative and long-term relationships at the local level, like they are doing effectively in the southern Phillipines with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

So that’s my initial response. I’d be interested in hearing from others.

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