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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Calling in Afghanistan 

I thought Obama's December speech on Afghanistan was remarkable in finally defining what the United States intended to accomplish in this war.
Today, Matt Yglesias refers to the analysis from Middle Eastern expert Rory Stewart on the poker strategy Obama is using to end this war:
Obama has acquired leverage over the generals and some support from the public by making it clear that he will not increase troop strength further. He has gained leverage over Karzai by showing that he has options other than investing in Afghanistan. Now he needs to regain leverage over the Taliban by showing them that he is not about to abandon Afghanistan and that their best option is to negotiate. . . . With the right patient leadership, a political strategy could leave Afghanistan in twenty years' time more prosperous, stable, and humane than it is today. That would be excellent for Afghans and good for the world.
Steward also discusses Obama's overall strategy for his foreign policy:
... Obama's broader strategic argument must not be lost. He has grasped that the foreign policy of the president should not consist in a series of extravagant, brief, Manichaean battles, driven by exaggerated fears, grandiloquent promises, and fragile edifices of doctrine. Instead the foreign policy of a great power should be the responsible exercise of limited power and knowledge in concurrent situations of radical uncertainty. Obama, we may hope, will develop this elusive insight. And then it might become possible to find the right places in which to deploy the wealth, the courage, and the political capital of the United States . . .
I began by saying that "calling" in poker was childish and that grownups raise or fold. But there is another category of people who raise or fold: those who are anxious to leave the table. They go all in to exit, hoping to get lucky but if not then at least to finish. They do not do this on the basis of their cards or the pot. They do it because they lack the patience, the interest, the focus, or the confidence to pace themselves carefully through the long and exhausting hours. They no longer care enough about the game. Obama is a famously keen poker player. He should never be in a hurry to leave the table.
Perhaps we should call this the Obama Doctrine.
With today's terrible news of five more Canadian deaths in Afghanistan, it is more important than ever that Canadians know whether we are accomplishing anything there.

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