YouTube video

In a major foreign policy speech in Washington, Senator Obama detailed his “five goals essential to
making America safer” in case he’s elected President – from ending the war on Iraq and confronting al-Qaeda in Afghanistan to rebuilding US alliances around the world. Pepe Escobar discusses how
Obama’s policies differ from Senator John McCain’s, and points to what he thinks are Obama’s hits and misses.

Story Transcript

PEPE ESCOBAR, SENIOR ANALYST: Barack Obama is the man with a plan for Iraq and Afghanistan. Quoting Truman and Acheson, Kennan and Marshall, the Greatest Generation, it’s all part of what Obama calls his new overarching strategy.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, US PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (D): I will focus this strategy on five goals essential to making America safer: ending the war in Iraq responsibly; finishing the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban; securing all nuclear weapons and materials from terrorists and rogue states; achieving true energy security; and rebuilding our alliances to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

ESCOBAR: Obama’s plan is more realistic, thoughtful, and sensible than the Bush-McCain road to victory in Iraq.

OBAMA: Senator McCain wants to talk about our tactics in Iraq. I want to focus on a new strategy for Iraq and the wider world.

ESCOBAR: But does Obama’s safe redeployment in Iraq automatically translate into no US troops by the summer of 2010? No. It translates into this:

OBAMA: We will keep a residual force to perform specific missions in Iraq, targeting any remnants of al-Qaeda, protecting our service members and diplomats, and training and supporting Iraq’s security forces, so long as the Iraqis make political progress.

ESCOBAR: Al-Qaeda in Iraq is just one component of the Islamic State of Iraq. That’s an umbrella Jihadi organization. They have no more than 1,000 jihadis. Obama does admit:

OBAMA: True success will take place when we leave Iraq to a government that is taking responsibility for its future, a government that prevents sectarian conflict and ensures that the al-Qaeda threat, which has been beaten back by our troops, does not reemerge.

ESCOBAR: But with Iraqis in charge of their own security, you don’t need US soldiers. Obama also does not explain how many will be part of this US residual force. Hundreds, thousands, without speaking Arabic, without access to local intelligence. What exactly will they be doing in Iraq? And who will judge who’s a terrorist and who’s not? The Baghdad government? Or, once again, Washington? US corporate media has given a blank check to John McCain on foreign policy. McCain says the surge in Iraq is working, the war may go on for 100 years, and let’s bomb-bomb-bomb, bomb-bomb Iran. Obama, on the other hand, recognizes that:

OBAMA: In fact, as should have been apparent to President Bush and Senator McCain, the central front in the war on terror is not Iraq, and it never was.

ESCOBAR: The problem is when Obama tackles the, I quote, “broader strategic goals.”

OBAMA: I will send at least two additional combat brigades to Afghanistan and use this commitment to seek greater contributions with fewer restrictions from our NATO allies.

ESCOBAR: Obama suggests tenuous hints for a mini-Marshall Plan for Afghanistan, already promised and not delivered by the US in late 2001.

OBAMA: That’s why I’ve proposed an additional $1 billion in non-military assistance each year, with meaningful safeguards to prevent corruption. We cannot lose Afghanistan to a future of narco-terrorism.

ESCOBAR: Obama basically frames the US mission in Afghanistan as a fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The problem is the US has not captured any al-Qaeda operative for ages, and the historical al-Qaeda leadership is in the Pakistani tribal areas, not Afghanistan. So what’s the purpose of having an extra 10,000 US troops in search-and-destroy missions—very dangerous—in eastern Afghanistan and bound to inflict the inevitable collateral damage on civilian peasants? Even the Pentagon now admits it’s fighting an asymmetrical war in Afghanistan, and it’s against a mix of all kinds of people—Taliban, disgruntled Pashtun tribal chiefs, and warlords—financed by who? The CIA in the 1980s. This has nothing to do with al-Qaeda. It’s about Afghans refusing what they see as foreign occupation by the US and NATO, exactly like Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq fighting against foreign occupation.

OBAMA: We need a stronger and sustained partnership between Afghanistan, Pakistan, and NATO to secure the border, to take out terrorist camps, and to crack down on cross-border insurgents.

ESCOBAR: Barnett Rubin of New York University, arguably the top US expert on Afghanistan, will tell Obama that the key to solve the war on terror is not Iraq or Afghanistan; it’s in fact Pakistan. And Obama, to a certain extent, seems to agree.

OBAMA: That’s why I’m co-sponsoring a bill with Joe Biden and Dick Lugar to triple non-military aid to the Pakistani people and to sustain it for a decade, while ensuring that the military assistance we provide is used to take the fight to the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

ESCOBAR: But Obama seems to ignore that Pakistan is a feudal society run by roughly 50 families, where the only solid institution is the army and the intelligence services. Even the Council on Foreign Relations, in a new report on the tribal areas along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, they admit, and I quote, “the Pakistani government lacks the political, military, or bureaucratic capacity to fix the tribal areas on its own.” Obama, for his part, does not spell out how, with just a fistful of dollars, he’ll be able to fix tribal areas that have been living in fierce independence for centuries. Even assuming the money would reach the tribal areas, it’s not certain it would erase the structural root of terror, which is social inequality in an impoverished land. So Obama’s broader strategic goals include an unspecified residual force in Iraq and more combat brigades in Afghanistan. Is this so radically different from McCain? Obama in fact may have given away his true position last April during the General Petraeus Senate hearings.

OBAMA: When you have finite resources, you’ve got to define your goals tightly and modestly. You don’t necessarily have to answer—maybe it’s a rhetorical question. If we were able to have the status quo in Iraq right now without US troops, would that be a sufficient definition of success? It’s obviously not perfect: there’s still violence; there’s still some traces of al-Qaeda; Iran has more influence than we would like. But if we had the current status quo, and yet our troops have been drawn down to 30,000, would we consider that a success? Would that meet our criteria? Or would that not be good enough, and we’d have to devote even more resources to it?

OBAMA: The status quo in Iraq with at least 30,000 residual US troops—is this change part of a new overarching strategy? Or is this the same status quo as defined by half a century of US foreign interference?


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Pepe Escobar, born in Brazil is the roving correspondent for Asia Times and an analyst for The Real News Network. He's been a foreign correspondent since 1985, based in London, Milan, Los Angeles, Paris, Singapore, and Bangkok. Since the late 1990s, he has specialized in covering the arc from the Middle East to Central Asia, including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He has made frequent visits to Iran and is the author of Globalistan and also Red Zone Blues: A Snapshot of Baghdad During the Surge both published by Nimble Books in 2007.