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What Obama Plans to Do About....Afghanistan

Did you know that there are more than 7-8 million Muslims in the United States? Did you know that 98% of them voted for Obama? Guess how many popular votes Obama won by? 8,136,711. That means that Muslims could’ve been the difference between this election being another Bush/Gore 2000, rather than the Clinton/Bush 1992 that it turned out to be.

The funny thing about this election is that, while the majority of Muslims have historically voted Republican, this year, there seems to have been an overwhelming shift toward the Democratic Party. As of this election, despite what the numbers indicate, two-thirds of Muslims still identified themselves as Democrats, while the other third identified themselves as Republican. This means if Muslims voted along party lines, Obama would have still won, but by a much smaller popular margin. McCain would be projected to have ~60.4 million popular votes and Obama would’ve had ~63.3 million. A smaller margin than the ~8.1 million popular votes that separated them on November 4th.

Now I know popular votes don’t dictate the election results because of the electorate system. Nevertheless I think the popular vote plays an important role in the perception of the President among the people, and is very telling of their confidence and trust in his leadership during times of crisis. I’m pretty sure we can all agree on how important it is to trust your head-of-state during times of crisis. Look at what happened when confidence in Bush plummeted, nothing he said or did could regain the respect of the very people who voted him in power.

With that said, why did Muslims overwhelmingly vote for Obama? I mean, precluding a multitude of reasons like personality, charisma, and speech-writing ability. It’s something that has fascinated me, so I’m going to take a look at his policy promises and political stances from the campaign that pertain to issues of foreign policy and national security, issues that are likely to hit closer to home for many American Muslims, and Muslims abroad.

Since there is a plethora of information regarding Obama’s policies on the internet, I’ll be splitting this post according to the issues, trying to dedicate a single post to a single issue, and will span this overview out over the course of the next 70 days, leading up to his swearing in.

So let’s start with Obama’s potential actions and policies towards Afghanistan.

When the US went into Afghanistan in December of 2001, Barack Obama was fresh off a defeat for his first bid to the U.S. House of Representatives. He didn’t have a chance to participate in legislative measures concerning the planned action in Afghanistan. So to speak on his stance on the conflict at that time is largely irrelevant to what he seemingly wants to accomplish there now.

Throughout his Presidential campaign, one of the things Obama stressed that I have advocated for is to phase troops out of Iraq and increase their numbers in Afghanistan. Had the U.S. dedicated the same number of troops to Afghanistan that they did to Iraq, Afghanistan would be a much more stable nation right now. With that said, Obama’s policy requires increasing troop counts to weed out the Taliban and al-Qaeda, particularly along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and to do so while allowing the Karzai Administration to expand their rule beyond Kabul.

Obama’s policy would include sending two more troop brigades, increasing the total American non-ISAF troop levels by 7,000 to 25,000. He also favours the U.S. carrying a heavier military load than the NATO Allies. While he does not oppose trying the approach taken in Iraq, where local tribesman were armed in an effort to have locals fight insurgents, he does not want to rely on such a policy as his primary mode of counter-insurgency. He understands the situation on the ground in Afghanistan differs greatly from that of Iraq.

Even senior political analysts at RAND have echoed the sentiment that there is nothing to gain long-term from arming militias and tribesman. One analyst, Christine Fair, said ‘we are where we are today because we choose to outsource securing Afghanistan to [people who are] basically warlords. There is no reason to believe that it will be successful, except in a very short-term definition of success.’

Obama has stressed that the United States cannot continue its current policy towards Afghanistan. He has indicated that it is a failed policy, when taking into account that it is the very policy responsible for the American intervention and quick pullout in the 1980’s, and is the same policy allowed the Taliban to take power, allowed al-Qaeda to establish a base, and created the current instability that exists today.

While Obama’s policies regarding Afghanistan do not differ greatly from his election opponent, John McCain; where Obama really separates himself is his understanding of the human aspect of the conflict. He has emphasized, with criticism, that the U.S. needs to stop bombing and killing indiscriminately in Afghanistan, in efforts to kill what it believes are insurgents, but are turning out to be civilians.

He has repeatedly stressed the need for better intelligence, and more accurate and reliable information before conducting military operations. He has said, “We've got to get the job done there and that requires us to have enough troops so that we're not just air-raiding villages and killing civilians, which is causing enormous problems there”.

The Washington Post even fact checked his remarks, and reported that the Associated Press count for civilian casualties in Afghanistan in 2007 by militants was 231, and civilian casualties resulting from Allied NATO bombings and air-raids was 286.

So unlike President Bush, President-elect Obama has displayed an understanding of the reality for ordinary Afghans.
He has stated that to help decrease the military efforts he is going to negotiate and seek compromise wherever possible; a welcome change to the ‘kill them all and let God sort them out’ policy that the Bush Administration has seemingly employed in conflict.

With regard to the people themselves, Obama has stated that he wants to increase non-military aid by $1 billion to help poppy-growers transform their crops into something else, although he has not indicated what they can transform their crops into. Personally, I would suggest tea. With a huge market for tea drinkers in South and Central Asia, a supply that can be shipped from closer locations than East Africa and Southern India could be beneficial to the overall economies of the area.

Obama has also urged Afghan government to improve governance, provide security and jobs to its people and to actively work to expand its reign beyond Kabul. Because of the lack of central governance beyond the district of Kabul, the locals often refer to Karzai as the “Mayor of Kabul”. Obama is seeking to help increase central power with the current Afghan government and discontinue the undercutting of its rule by local warlords.

Obama’s most notable and controversial policy on Afghanistan centers around his insistence that there be more government-rule around the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and that U.S. and NATO be allowed to chase al-Qaeda operatives who escape into Pakistan, if Pakistan’s military is unable to catch them. Obama has stated that this policy-change is necessary to completely eradicate al-Qaeda on both sides of the border.

He has tied his policy on Afghanistan to Pakistan, and is insisting on the establishment of more government control over the tribal regions. He wants to do so while still remaining sensitive to the cultural values and local needs of the civilians with the hope that it will improve the perception of the United States amongst the Afghan people.

Obama also strongly believes that by strengthening Afghanistan economically and politically, military intervention will not become a primary necessity, like it has been the past 7 years.

So, in regards to his policy on Afghanistan, while I can’t speak for all Muslims, I think I can safely say that Obama is headed in the right direction in regards to Afghanistan, and that his approach to a solution to the conflict is refreshing. Whether or not it will be a successful policy, however, remains to be seen, but I think with respect to how Muslims may feel about the conflict itself, it is certainly a step in the right direction.

See also:
What Obama Plans to Do About....Iraq


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