Barack Obama said in the last two debates that we dropped the ball in Afghansitan; that we took our eye off the prize, let Osama Bin Laden get away, have allowed the Taliban to regroup and regain its strength, and all because the Bush Administration decided–for reasons that turned out not to be true–to place the bulk of our military in Iraq, a war which has gone horribly awry and continues to consume the attention of most of our troops. Obama’s words from the first debate:
“Now six years ago, I stood up and opposed this war at a time when it was politically risky to do so because I said that not only did we not know how much it was going to cost, what our exit strategy might be, how it would affect our relationships around the world, and whether our intelligence was sound, but also because we hadn’t finished the job in Afghanistan.
“We hadn’t caught bin Laden. We hadn’t put al Qaeda to rest, and as a consequence, I thought that it was going to be a distraction. Now Senator McCain and President Bush had a very different judgment.
“And I wish I had been wrong for the sake of the country and they had been right, but that’s not the case. We’ve spent over $600 billion so far, soon to be $1 trillion. We have lost over 4,000 lives. We have seen 30,000 wounded, and most importantly, from a strategic national security perspective, al Qaeda is resurgent, stronger now than at any time since 2001.
“We took our eye off the ball. And not to mention that we are still spending $10 billion a month, when they have a $79 billion surplus, at a time when we are in great distress here at home, and we just talked about the fact that our budget is way overstretched and we are borrowing money from overseas to try to finance just some of the basic functions of our government.
“So I think the lesson to be drawn is that we should never hesitate to use military force, and I will not, as president, in order to keep the American people safe. But we have to use our military wisely. And we did not use our military wisely in Iraq.”
Sen. Obama’s comments from second debate:
“So what happened was we got distracted, we diverted resources, and ultimately bin Laden escaped, set up base camps in the mountains of Pakistan in the northwest provinces there. They are now raiding our troops in Afghanistan, destabilizing the situation. They’re stronger now than at any time since 2001. And that’s why I think it’s so important for us to reverse course because that’s the central front on terrorism. They are plotting to kill Americans right now. As Secretary Gates, the Defense secretary, said, the war against terrorism began in that region, and that’s where it will end. So part of the reason I think it’s so important for us to end the war in Iraq is to be able to get more troops into Afghanistan, put more pressure on the Afghan government to do what it needs to do, eliminate some of the drug trafficking that’s funding terrorism.”
Sen. Obama also pointed out that Sen. McCain did and continues to support the decision to go into Iraq in the first place, and that Sen. McCain still believes that Iraq is the more important front in the battle against terrorism.
Mr. McCain’s comments from the second debate:
“So we are peacemakers and we’re peacekeepers. But the challenge is to know when the United States of American can beneficially effect the outcome of a crisis, when to go in and when not, when American military power is worth the expenditure of our most precious treasure.
“And that question can only be answered by someone with the knowledge and experience and the judgment, the judgment to know when our national security is not only at risk, but where the United States of America can make a difference in preventing genocide, in preventing the spread of terrorism, in doing the things that the United States has done, not always well, but we’ve done because we’re a nation of good.
“And I am convinced that my record, going back to my opposition from sending the Marines to Lebanon, to supporting our efforts in Kosovo and Bosnia and the first Gulf War, and my judgment, I think, is something that I’m — a record that I’m willing to stand on.
“Sen. Obama was wrong about Iraq and the surge. He was wrong about Russia when they committed aggression against Georgia. And in his short career, he does not understand our national security challenges.”
Given the above differences, I wanted to make everyone aware of an article in The New York Times today addressing the situation in Afghanistan:
A draft report by American intelligence agencies concludes that Afghanistan is in a “downward spiral” and casts serious doubt on the ability of the Afghan government to stem the rise in the Taliban’s influence there, according to American officials familiar with the document.
The classified report finds that the breakdown in central authority in Afghanistan has been accelerated by rampant corruption within the government of President Hamid Karzai and by an increase in violence by militants who have launched increasingly sophisticated attacks from havens in Pakistan.
The report, a nearly completed version of a National Intelligence Estimate, is set to be finished after the November elections and will be the most comprehensive American assessment in years on the situation in Afghanistan. Its conclusions represent a harsh verdict on decision-making in the Bush administration, which in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks made Afghanistan the central focus of a global campaign against terrorism…
…The downward slide in the security situation in Afghanistan has also become an issue in the presidential campaign, along with questions about whether the White House emphasis in recent years on the war in Iraq has been misplaced…
…Inside the government, reports issued by the Central Intelligence Agency for more than two years have chronicled the worsening violence and rampant corruption inside Afghanistan, and some in the agency say they believe that it has taken the White House too long to respond to the warnings.
Henry A. Crumpton, a career C.I.A. officer who last year stepped down as the State Department’s top counterterrorism official, attributed some of Afghanistan’s problems to a “lack of leadership” both at the White House and in European capitals where commitments to rebuild Afghanistan after 2001 have never been met… officials in Washington were just beginning to wake up to the problem.
“It’s taken them a long time to realize it, but now they know it’s pretty grim,” he said…
…Mr. Obama has accused the White House of paying too little attention to Afghanistan as it poured the vast bulk of American military resources into the war in Iraq, while Mr. McCain has defended the administration’s decision, saying that Iraq remains the more important front in the battle against terrorism.