Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Two big decisions for Obama

President Obama may take his time making his mind up, maybe a little too much, but when he does it up it's well thought out and reasoned based on advice from a variety of sources; not just a narrow group of people who have a predetermined answer.
On two issues, he now wants to make a huge move forward. First, Obama announced he wants the US to cut its greenhouse gas levels by 17% of 2005 levels by 2020 and 83% by 2050, and will make that the basis of his country's proposals for the Copenhagen meetings coming up. He'll also demand that developing countries do their part as well, something which was missing from Kyoto. It's less than the 25 to 30% most experts feel is needed to make a real impact but it is a real target, not the reduction in "intensity" that the current Canadian government feels compelled to follow.

Second, he has decided what to do about Afghanistan and will commit, in a speech at West Point next week, to increase his country's troop commitment of 68,000 by about another 30,000 in a "surge" similar to a belated strategy used by Dubya in the latter part of his administration but will also make clear that Afghanistan has to meet certain goals by specific dates and that the Western troop commitment is not an open-ended one. Many of the troops would be sent to Kandahar which will no doubt be a relief to our Canadian soldiers who are stretched to the limit.

A surge is unfortunately needed; and I have been consistent in my belief that the war in Afghanistan was the important one, and the battle in Iraq unnecessary (as it indirectly provoked a civil war) as the troops who were and are still in Iraq could have been in Afghanistan and secured the country. Imagine the difference if 200,000 US military were in Afghanistan from the very beginning. It certainly would have set an example for all the other NATO countries, the majority of which got put off all together on any kind of deployment after Bush and Blair pushed it too far on Iraq.
The sad thing is that it will also give legitimacy to a president (Hamid Karzai) who by most accepted accounts was re-elected via fraud. There are also no assurances that Pakistan will do its part which is a problem both for Afghanistan as well as India.
Much needs to be done in the region -- not just neutralizing the Taliban and other paramilitary groups as well as the al Qaeda network but also coming up with a final resolution to the issue of Kashmir. Further to the east, the long standing border dispute between India and Bangladesh, especially over the convoluted Cooch-Behar area with its dozens of enclaves, also has to be resolved as just one of the roughly 200 patches could be used as a base to start a regional terrorist war.
Obama still has a lot of international goodwill which puts him further ahead of his predecessor; but the world's patience will wear short and thin if he doesn't act fast and the troops he sends actually does something to start a chain reaction of peace in that part of the Asia-Pacific region, which is so desperately needed.

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