In a speech this morning at the International Trade Center in Washington, D.C., Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama criticized George W. Bush and John McCain for ignoring Afghanistan, and he also promised to take the fight to al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Obama talked about how the Iraq war distracts the nation from other threats, “This war distracts us from every threat that we face and so many opportunities we could seize. This war diminishes our security, our standing in the world, our military, our economy, and the resources that we need to confront the challenges of the 21st century. By any measure, our single-minded and open-ended focus on Iraq is not a sound strategy for keeping America safe.”
He criticized Bush and McCain for ignoring al-Qaeda, and promised that will change in his administration, “In fact – as should have been apparent to President Bush and Senator McCain – the central front in the war on terror is not Iraq, and it never was. That’s why the second goal of my new strategy will be taking the fight to al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
Obama took McCain to task for saying that Afghanistan is not in danger because of our invasion of Iraq, “Senator McCain said – just months ago – that ‘Afghanistan is not in trouble because of our diversion to Iraq.’ I could not disagree more. Our troops and our NATO allies are performing heroically in Afghanistan, but I have argued for years that we lack the resources to finish the job because of our commitment to Iraq. That’s what the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said earlier this month. And that’s why, as President, I will make the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban the top priority that it should be. This is a war that we have to win.”
It is also interesting to note that Obama seems to have abandoned his hard line on Pakistan, by promising to help stabilize the government with more non-military aid. “It’s time to strengthen stability by standing up for the aspirations of the Pakistani people. That’s why I’m cosponsoring a bill with Joe Biden and Richard Lugar to triple non-military aid to the Pakistani people and to sustain it for a decade, while ensuring that the military assistance we do provide is used to take the fight to the Taliban and al Qaeda. We must move beyond a purely military alliance built on convenience, or face mounting popular opposition in a nuclear-armed nation at the nexus of terror and radical Islam.”
Notice that there was no mention in the speech of the idea he floated in the primaries that U.S. forces should go into Pakistan and hunt al-Qaeda. The reality is that Obama has been calling for more troops in Afghanistan for a couple of years, just as John Kerry called for an increased focus on Afghanistan in the 2004 election. Obama’s speech was pretty much the standard party line, which is what you would expect from the party leader.
Democrats have been right on the money about Afghanistan, but with the focus being on Iraq, no one listened. The deteriorating situation in Afghanistan has gotten the attention of the American public, which means that now is a really good time to have the discussion about refocusing our military priorities.