-PUBLISHED ON HURRIYET DAILY NEWS ON MARCH 4TH, 2009-
-HURRIYET DAILY NEWS'TE, 4 MART, 2009 TARIHINDE YAYINLANMIS MAKALEM-
Iraq was heavily being discussed at every corner in Washington, DC, on the radio programs and TV networks across the America in the years between 2003 and 2008. At the same period, the Afghanistan war, the first war on the other hand, was long forgotten after the initial quick and sounding victory, ousting the Taliban forces from power, and installing the Karzai interim government in its place.
Nowadays the picture in the US capitol seems to be changed completely. Washington, DC’s think tanks are busying themselves with Afghanistan-Pakistan (AfPak) talks along with countless TV discussions and comments in the daily papers.
There is practically no one left today that is defending the start of the Iraq war. That was a wrong war, with flawed intelligence and strategy, as we know it today. After the early period of ‘cake walking’ to Baghdad and toppling Saddam’s sculpture first and capturing him later, the unpredicted chart of the war started. Later on, it turned out with the vast recollections in forms of published books, interviews or chronicles that the violence in Iraq was out of control, Al-Qaeda was gaining control in many places, and Shia militias were effective in the south of Iraq and also parts of Baghdad while the ‘stay in the course’ claptrap was being preached in Washington, DC.
On the other hand, the Democrats, the opposite force that was supposed to prove the legislative power’s independency, and to oversee the executive branch, were rallying with the Republicans. People still remember those days when the Senate was 50-50 divided between the two parties, and the Democrats indeed had the power to stop the “joint resolution to authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against Iraq” in 2002. However, about all of the leaders of the Senate Democrats went ahead with the ‘yea’ vote and subsequently, Mr. Obama's presidential candidacy was bolstered in both the primary and general election by his early opposition to this war. His primary rival Sen. Hillary Clinton also voted ‘for’ for this resolution, and doubtlessly it was this position that cost her the nomination of the Democratic Party.
SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT
Opposing most of the Bush Administration’s war policies was in fact working well up to one point. While Obama was not in the American Senate and out of sight, he was against the Iraq war, rightly so; when he was under the spotlight and on the road to the White House, he was challenging the ‘surge’ policy; the policy that practically did not have a substitute course of action. If Obama’s anti-surge stand and suggestion of pulling out of Iraq had been listened to, it would have had dreadful consequences as such to create a power vacuum in the region and pull many neighboring actors into the conflict. By the time it was near to the presidential elections of November 2008, it was clear that the surge policy, which was preliminary proposed by the rival Republican nominee Senator McCain, was making headways and paving the way for the unanticipated success in Iraq.
Affirmative: Obama’s anti-surge stance, under normal circumstances was supposed to be a fatal blow to his presidential prospects and was enough to hand out the election victory to McCain. Nevertheless, deepening economic crisis, and American people’s weariness of the Republican presidency emerged with McCain’s being old and out of e-mailing state, and brought him to the “wrong side of the history”. It was a time for change and Obama was there to seize the moment.
All the same, since his election, Obama has already disappointed many of his supporters with his appointments and pronouncements. During a panel last week at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington, DC, Jeffrey Rosen, George Washington University Law Professor, and “one of the most influential legal commentators in America”, told the audience that “tremendous pressures both economic, constitutional and political already pulling Obama” in opposite directions from the Obama we knew during the campaign. Dr. Rosen elaborated his stand: Obama’s new national security team already is defending many of Bush’s ‘war on terror’ pillars. For instance, Obama’s CIA director pick, Mr. Leon Panetta, a former chief of staff to Bill Clinton, endorsed CIA’s ‘extraordinary rendition’ policy, under which agents seize terrorism suspects and take them to other countries without extradition proceedings. Panetta also reported saying, if necessary, he would further seek additional authority to use harsher interrogation techniques on a person to reveal information. The Nation, a leftist magazine, said ‘not a single member of Obama’s foreign-policy [and] national-security team opposed the war.” New York Times reported that Mrs. Elena Kagan, the nominee for solicitor general, the president's representative before the US Supreme Court, said that someone suspected of helping finance Al-Qaeda should be subject to the battlefield law, meaning indefinite detention without a trial, even if he were captured in a place like the Philippines rather than in a physical battle zone.
Amid Obama’s ordering the troop increase in Afghanistan, invoking State Secrets Privileges in anti-torture lawsuits, green lighting more missile attacks in tribal areas in Pakistan, changing the mind on the aggressive surveillance program even before the elections and holding up many of Bush’s war on terror policies, the new administration seems to be “embracing” and “endorsing” of Bush’s National Security cautions, that once found so odious. Mr. Bush took Iraq as his central war and he had forgotten the one in Afghanistan, while Mr. Obama seems to take on the Afghanistan war, as announcing pulling out from Iraq, a year before the previous administration estimated. Though still, Obama projects more flexibility, and openness to the adjustments of the timetable, and leaving a relatively vast number of non-combat troops until the end of 2011 in Iraq. A night before Obama announced the timetable for Iraq, McCain and the Republicans met with him and showed support for the plan. This uncanny convergence made it more evident that the realities of the office already has changed Obama’s many promises into “stay on the course” principal when it comes to the national security issues.
I have participated in many discussions on Afghanistan-Pakistan these days in different panels and circles of Washington, DC. One of the latest talks was by Sen. McCain at the American Enterprise Institute, or AEI, or known as ‘the bunker of the neo-cons.’ Leaving aside the conspiracy theories for people who know-it-all to talk, I thought the person who predicted the early-accurate but bitter solution for Iraq should have meaningful analysis about today’s troubled country as well; so many of the world’s renowned news agencies and newspapers had the same idea, in the room, as I saw.
McCain talked about 30 minutes and answered many unscreened questions; contrary to the new habit in town of taking only the gingered questions. McCain’s strategy for Afghanistan for success was: reapply the counterinsurgency principles, help the Afghans to surge, increase and reform non-military assistance, get control of the narcotics problem, work regionally with the AfPak’s neighbors, talk and explain to the American people about the occurrences in the region, timely and honestly.
The talk seemed to have more of military solutions than reconciliation and civil ones. While answering questions, the Senator emphasized that the war in Afghanistan will be a long one, and it is not enough to find extreme militants who kill only; there are other civilian solutions that also need to be put in place. At the same time he was also asking ‘nicely’ for more help from the Transatlantic alliances: pointing out their collaboration over the years, rather than complaining about them as so often has been the case in the center of the talks in Washington, DC recently. Lastly, McCain clasped Obama’s additional troop decision, however he added that the White House doesn’t have a grand strategy for Afghanistan yet. So far though, in Afghanistan as well, it seems there isn’t any big difference between the old rivals or the succeeding administrations.
In short, these early days of the new administration in Washington, DC, some of the issues that were powerful enough to define the primaries and even the presidential elections just a couple of months ago, now seem to be glib, lost and forgotten; though the faces have changed and the rhetoric too, along with more elegant utterances.