WASHINGTON – Invoking what he described as a lesson of Vietnam, President Barack Obama said Sunday that his commitment to step up military operations in Afghanistan was not open-ended and that success would require vigorous diplomatic and development efforts there and in neighboring Pakistan.
Obama framed the escalation of military activity he announced Friday as an effort to regain focus on defeating or neutralizing al-Qaida, which was dislodged from enclaves in Afghanistan after the U.S. invasion in late 2001.
“We have to ensure that neither Afghanistan nor Pakistan can serve as a safe haven for al-Qaida. And, unfortunately, over the last several years what we’ve seen is, essentially, al-Qaida moving several miles from Afghanistan to Pakistan but effectively still able to project their violence and hateful ideologies around the world,” Obama said in an interview with Bob Schieffer on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
Pressed about whether his decision to send 21,000 more troops to Afghanistan might leave the U.S. more deeply mired in the conflict, Obama replied: “I’m enough of a student of history to know that the United States in Vietnam and other countries, other epics of history, have overextended to the point where they were severely weakened,” and that Afghanistan has been notoriously resistant to foreign occupiers.
Obama has downsized policy goals for Afghanistan from the ambitions of the Bush administration, which envisioned the invasion as a prelude to its democratization.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said as much on another weekend news show. “I think the near-term objective has been narrowed” to “reversing the Taliban’s momentum and strengthening the Afghan army and police and really going after al-Qaida as the president said,” he told Chris Wallace of “Fox News Sunday.”