Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Word on Speeches

Since everybody else is feeeling pretty hip-hop lately, I think we should listen to Providence's finest:

I'm sure that some of the other good folks on Registan will get theirs up before I do, but that's no reason to stop talking. Ink Spots' live blog is probably the best thing I've read on Obama's speech, but really, you should be able to make your own opinion.

The most important thing to take out of this speech is that it wasn't about Afghanistan, it was about America. There was no talk about mid-level or micro-strategy, no discussion of how to defeat America's enemies through any other way than hoping they line up in front of some guns. As anyone who's been following Afghanistan could tell you, there was no discussion of how we're going to get from A to B. The Underpants Gnomes of Afghanistan live on!

The speech was about what Americans can expect to sacrifice and for what gains. Americans were told that 30,000 more of them will be going to Afghanistan (and one can assume a bunch more civilians will be making the trip as well). And they'll be back ~1 year later. There will be no occupation. There will be no Iraq. There will be no Vietnam. That was the message. Just 30,000, out of a country of 300,000,000. Christian can say it better than I can.

So the rest of the country can live on and forget about Afghanistan or Central Asia until the next voting cycle. Unless, of course, you were just stop-lossed or friends/family with someone who was. The speech didn't try to wrestle with realities on the ground in Afghanistan, the value of a population-centric and/or urban-centric strategy in a non-urbanized and agricultural country, nor whether federalization of power away from Kabul will be subjectively or objectively "good". In short, the speech didn't discuss the things we argue about every day around here.

There was nothing in the speech that will help us analyze the region and try to make second-order decisions later on, so there's no need to parse and auger for the words that say what you may like them to mean. So we wait and see if the assumptions we have already made will play out or not. I don't mean this as a knock on Obama, a knock on The American Way, or anything like that. I just think that serious answers to instability require serious scholarship, not gut reactions to political speeches.

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