Monday, March 29, 2010

Obama visits Afghanistan

My original intention for this blog post was to analyze articles of public opinion in reference to the war in Afghanistan. It is evident that the support of war has risen and fallen over the years and especially during the change in administrations. However, in light of recent events, and surprise visits, I decided to take a different direction with this blog.
On Sunday March 28, 2010, President Barack Obama made a surprise visit to Afghanistan. It was the first time Barack came to the country as President of the United States. It was surprising to me that this was his first visit as president considering his deployment of 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan last December.
In his short 6 hour visit, Obama met with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai. One of the main messages Obama delivered to Karzai was the continued U.S frustrations in Afghan government corruption and drug trafficking. President Obama praised the military progress that has ensued in the country, but stressed that progress on the civilian front has been lacking.
President Karazai’s election into office in August of 2009 was plagued by corruption and criticism. Obama has even regarded Karzai as “unreliable and ineffective.” Thus, Obama’s concern was for the service of the Afghan people. Obama demanded a few things from Karzai during his visit. He made it clear it was essential that the Afghan authorities actually make good on their repeated promises, including improving living conditions for Afghan civilians. Along with this, Obama wants Karzai to enforce the law that prevents people from joining the insurgency. This stern message from Obama is correlated with his hope of U.S troops to exit Afghanistan by mid 2011 and hand over security to the Afghanistan government.
Karzai seemed hopeful in his response to Obama’s request. He told the US President, that his country would be moving forward into the future and eventually be ready to take over its own security. According to U.S. accounts of the meeting, Karzai also told Obama he has begun to establish more credible national institutions on corruption. Showing signs of improvement, this past month Karzai gave more powers to an anti-corruption body. They now have the authority to refer cases to court and as act as prosecutor. The White House hopes that Karzai can fulfill U.S. expectations for Afghanistan and have invited Karzai to Washington for more talks on May 12.
Obama’s short visit to Afghanistan also included a visit to U.S. troops at Bagram Air Force Base. In a leather bomber jacket, Obama thanked the troops for what they have done in Afghanistan and for the American people saying, “My main job here today is to say thank you on behalf of the entire American people. You are part of the finest military in the history of the world. And we are proud of you.” 
The morale boost from the President served as a way to reiterate the mission for the troops: to destroy al Qaeda and strengthen Afghan security forces and Afghan government so they can take responsibility of their country. The Commander in Chief did state that progress has been made in the last several months. Many seemed to doubt this however, considering Associated Press reports that the number of U.S troops killed in Afghanistan has roughly doubled in the first three months of 2010 in comparison to the same time period last year. An interesting perspective on President Obama’s speech to the troops in Bagram was noted by Al Jazeera’s reporter John Terrett. He mentioned the President’s tone was different than it was when he fist made the announcement of extra troops. Terrett noted that Obama, “stressed on several occasions the sacrifice of the US troops and how if he didn't think this was strategically important for the US he would bring them all home today.” Terrett even stated his thoughts that Obama was preparing the troops for the fact that July 2011 will “come and go and not many troops will begin to come home.”
I suppose this brings me back to my original thought for the blog. What are Americans thoughts about the war in Afghanistan, more importantly, what do Americans think of Obama’s handling of the war? In a Washington Post poll conducted right after Obama’s most recent trip to Afghanistan. Overall, Obama had a successful outcome in the poll; 53 percent of those polled approved of the way Obama is handling the war in Afghanistan, while 35 percent disapprove of how the President is handling the situation. It will be interesting to see how Obama’s approval rating with the war in Afghanistan changes. Even more so it will be interesting to see if Karzai and his administration can begin to take control of the situation in their country and eliminate corruption.

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