Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Nation building is hard

George Bush gave another of his war on terror speeches today. The best one can say is that these speeches have gotten more sober over the years, at least relative to the delusional Iraq speeches from the summer of 2003 onwards. A few observations --

The important task in the period ahead will be to work toward the conclusion of a strategic framework agreement and a status of forces agreement between the United States and Iraq. These agreements will serve as the foundation for America's continued security support to Iraq once the United Nations resolution authorizing the multinational forces there expires on December 31st of this year. They will allow us to establish a bilateral relationship between the United States and Iraq like those we have with dozens of other countries around the world.

Note the distinction between the status of forces agreement and the strategic framework; the previous spin had been these were the same agreement, hence the Senate shouldn't be complaining about Bush negotiating treaties that he doesn't intend to have ratified because he already has the power to negotiate a status of forces agreement. But now apparently there really is a difference. Which will again raise the question of whether this is a back-door treaty -- although since Bush is already dumping the war itself into the lap of his successor, perhaps an additional piece of paper won't make that much difference.

Anyway, on Afghanistan, Bush endorsed Barack Obama's long held position that this is where the real problem is. The good news is that

Afghan fighters are good fighters.

Someone might want to hand him some Kipling.


Local Afghan forces were key to our successes in 2001 and 2002, when we combined the 21st century capabilities of the American military with the courage of Afghan fighters on horseback.

That period would include the botched siege of Tora Bora, when the delegation of part of the battle to local fighters (since General Tommy Franks was already conserving US troops for Iraq) allowed Osama bin Laden to escape.

In a phrase he may come to regret, he referred to the NATO troop build-up in Afghanistan as a "quiet surge", which will be complemented by what is in effect a switch of forces from Iraq --

The mission of these forces will be to work with the Afghan forces to provide security for the Afghan people, protect Afghanistan's infrastructure and democratic institutions, and help ensure access to services like education and health care.

Don't tell Condi that battle troops might again be escorting kids to kindergarten!

Finally, Bush was more explicit than before in including Pakistan as a front in the war on terror --

Each of these three places I've discussed today -- Iraq, Afghanistan, and parts of Pakistan -- pose unique challenges for our country. Yet they're all theaters in the same overall struggle.

While this again follows Barack Obama's lead, it raises the question of how the territorial aspects of the war in Pakistan will be reconciled with Pakistan having an elected government that does not want foreign intervention on its soil.

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