Before the outbreak of green on blue killings that eventually led to a significant interruption in the training of Afghan security forces last September, it was impossible to read a statement from the US military or NATO regarding future plans without encountering a reference to a required 352,000 force size for combined Afghan National Security Forces. It was our training of the ANSF that was touted as our primary reason for remaining in Afghanistan because we need those trained troops available to take over security responsibility as we withdraw. I have been insisting since the interruption that it will be impossible to continue to claim that a functional ANSF force size of 352,000 can be achieved, as the known high rate of attrition continued during the training interruption. No new troop size prediction has emerged, but it was significant to me that references to the 352,000 force size claim had seemed to disappear.
Last night, President Barack Obama announced in his State of the Union address that he intends to withdraw about half the troops now in Afghanistan within the next twelve months, but he made no direct reference ANSF force size. Here are the three short paragraphs on Afghanistan in the speech as found in the transcript of his address:
Tonight, we stand united in saluting the troops and civilians who sacrifice every day to protect us. Because of them, we can say with confidence that America will complete its mission in Afghanistan and achieve our objective of defeating the core of al Qaeda. (Applause.)
Already, we have brought home 33,000 of our brave servicemen and women. This spring, our forces will move into a support role, while Afghan security forces take the lead. Tonight, I can announce that over the next year, another 34,000 American troops will come home from Afghanistan. This drawdown will continue and by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over. (Applause.)
Beyond 2014, America’s commitment to a unified and sovereign Afghanistan will endure, but the nature of our commitment will change. We’re negotiating an agreement with the Afghan government that focuses on two missions — training and equipping Afghan forces so that the country does not again slip into chaos, and counterterrorism efforts that allow us to pursue the remnants of al Qaeda and their affiliates.
Despite the specific force numbers cited with respect to US forces, Obama merely mentions “Afghan security forces” without telling us how many of them there will be. Resorting to the more detailed Afghanistan Fact Sheet released last night by the White House, however, shows that Obama still clings to the myth that there are 352,000 members of the ANSF. The Fact Sheet even goes to so far as to claim that this force level will be maintained for the next three years. I don’t believe I have seen this three year claim before: Continue reading
Political speeches, by nature, push the limits of truth. Because of that, the process of sorting out truths from lies in political speeches has become something of a cottage industry. The bald-faced lie lie that Obama told in only his third sentence of last night’s State of the Union speech, however, doesn’t need a dedicated fact-checking organization to see the dishonesty. As Marcy has already pointed out, Obama framed his speech entirely around chest-thumping over the killing of Osama bin Laden. But let’s look only at that third sentence:
We gather tonight knowing that this generation of heroes has made the United States safer and more respected around the world.
I won’t even go into the issue of whether the US is now safer due to the military misadventures started by the Bush-Cheney administration and continued enthusiastically by Obama. But the claim that the US is more respected around the world because of “this generation of heroes” displays the very militaristic arrogance that is the chief reason Americans are attacked. Because the bulk of these military activities take place in the Arab world, that seems the most appropriate place to look for evidence of Obama’s claimed “respect”. On July 13, 2011, the Arab American Institute Foundation released the results of a Zogby poll (pdf) conducted on their behalf. From the executive summary:
With the 2008 election of Barack Obama, favorable attitudes toward the U.S. more than doubled in many Arab countries. But in the two years since his famous “Cairo speech,” ratings for both the U.S. and the President have spiraled downwards. The President is seen overwhelmingly as failing to meet the expectations set during his speech, and the vast majority of those surveyed disagree with U.S policies.
In five out of the six countries surveyed, the U.S. was viewed less favorably than Turkey, China, France—or Iran. Far from seeing the U.S. as a leader in the post-Arab Spring environment, the countries surveyed viewed “U.S. interference in the Arab world” as the greatest obstacle to peace and stability in the Middle East, second only to the continued Palestinian occupation.
But Obama’s tone deafness in using the bin Laden killing as evidence for US respect is especially galling, since we have this:
The killing of bin Laden only worsened attitudes toward the U.S.
In touting how the US is “more respected”, Obama is relying on the most prominent recent event that has caused a worsening of opinion of the US in the Arab world. It is behavior like this that has put the US now at an approval level in the Arab world that is ” lower than at the end of the Bush Administration, and lower than Iran’s favorable ratings (except in Saudi Arabia)”.
Of course it’s not just the killing of bin Laden or Obama’s chest-thumping that have angered the Arab world. Just in the last few days, there are numerous examples of US behavior that can only result in resentment in the Arab world.