One step backward.

Author:Pal, Amitabh
Position:Comment

President Obama's plans for Afghanistan and Pakistan have some serious flaws.

He started off on the wrong foot. He announced in February that he was sending 17,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, even before his own internal review had a chance to do its work. He may regret this initial commitment.

Two pronouncements from the Obama Administration at that time were also deeply troubling. Defense Secretary Bob Gates told Congress, "If we set ourselves the objective of creating some sort of Central Asian Valhalla over there, we will lose," while Obama himself opined, "We are not going to be able to rebuild Afghanistan into a Jeffersonian democracy."

Such rhetoric is often the prelude to an anti-democratic outcome.

By opting for a military-first approach, Obama troubled many of his allies and indeed some within his own party.

"I would disagree with Obama as far as a surge that would lead to a more intense bombing of Afghan villages and centers and a heavy dependence on military," Jimmy Carter told Amy Goodman. "I would like to see us reach out more, to be accommodating, and negotiate with all of the factions in Afghanistan."

Senator John Kerry was similarly unimpressed.

"Our military commitment must be matched with realistic goals, beginning with a comprehensive new bottom-up strategy acknowledging Afghanistan's history of decentralized governance and recognizing the capabilities of our NATO and Afghan allies," he wrote in The Washington Post .

The dangers of a course of action led by the military are readily apparent. A U.N. report released in February provides solid evidence. Last year set a record for civilian deaths in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban. While the Taliban were responsible for more than half of the casualties, pro-government forces (U.S., NATO, and Afghan troops) were responsible for two-fifths. The most infamous incident occurred last August, when an American air attack killed perhaps ninety civilians, leading to a harsh denunciation by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, a supposed American ally.

"Civilian deaths have become a political flash point in Afghanistan, eroding public support for the war and inflaming tensions with President Hamid Karzai, who has bitterly condemned the American-led coalition for the rising toll," a New York Times article reports. "President Obama's decision to deploy more troops to Afghanistan raises the prospect of even more casualties."

With 30,000 additional U.S. troops in total by year's...

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