January 20, 2010 Special Dispatch No. 2759

Saudi Criticism of President Obama's Afghanistan Policy

January 20, 2010
Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 2759

President Barack Obama's new policy in Afghanistan, based on reinforcing the troops there while setting a July 2011 target date for their withdrawal, was met with criticism in the Saudi press. The main criticism was that President Obama is focusing on the military angle while ignoring the political aspects of the conflict in Afghanistan. Some of the writers also expressed disappointment that the U.S. failed to consult with Saudi Arabia in formulating its policy.

Following are excerpts from articles on this issue:

Al-Watan: Obama Wants to Have His Cake and Eat It, Too

The Al-Watan daily argued in an editorial that military might is not enough to succeed in Afghanistan, and expressed disappointment that President Obama did not heed the advice of Saudi experts: "President Obama is different from his predecessor, George Bush, in that he relies on information in taking decisions, while Bush used to boast that he relied on assumptions in reaching sensitive decisions. But [even] decisions based on knowledge are not necessarily successful if the one who takes them does not consult those with experience. This can be said of Obama's [decision] to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, and to begin the withdrawal in July 2011.

"This decision... followed three months of studying the situation in Afghanistan, which led Obama to the conclusion that he should rely on America's military might in eliminating the threat of the Taliban and in pressuring Karzai's government to implement the required reforms within months, not years.

"[This policy] of military escalation [coupled with talk of] withdrawal reflects the division that has formed within the American administration over the past three months. This political decision, which reflects Obama's desire to have his cake and eat it, does not seem very convincing in terms of the results it can be expected to deliver. The American troops have been in Afghanistan for years, and have not been able to obtain the required decisive [victory]...

"Let me refer [the reader] to an article in The Washington Post by [former Saudi ambassador to the U.S.] Prince Turki Al-Faisal, in which he gave Obama some advice on eliminating extremism.[1] One of his recommendations was to stop fighting the Taliban as a terror organization, and to concentrate [instead] on fighting Al-Qaeda, thereby paving the way to a constructive dialogue with the Taliban. Prince Al-Faisal also recommended resolving the problem of Kashmir, so that it cannot be used by the extremist organizations as an excuse for their activity. [In addition, the Prince] explained that helping the Afghan farmers to replace opium with some other crop would starve the extremist organizations of one of their chief sources of income. In sum, the Prince's position was that the solution to Afghanistan's problems did not lie in a military victory, but in [resolving] some of the key issues in the region.

"If America does not want to experience another Vietnam in Afghanistan, the White House must take a more intelligent [approach] in dealing with [this country]. Perhaps the smartest thing [it can do] is listen to the advice of those who have the greatest experience [in dealing with] the situation on the ground, instead of succumbing to complex intrigues of people in Washington, whose main interest does not seem to be resolving the Afghan problem."[2]

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat Editor: Obama Is Repeating Bush's Mistakes

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat editor Tariq Alhomayed wrote that Obama is repeating George W. Bush's mistakes in Iraq: "Obama is repeating the mistakes of George W. Bush, who believed that as soon as he toppled Saddam Hussein's regime, Iraq would be able to stand on its own feet as a democracy, and that he would [thereby] change the entire region... But the situation in Afghanistan is even worse [than in Iraq]. Obama is dealing with a state that has been failing for decades. It lacks even the features of a state, let alone a democracy. This is where Obama's predicament lies. Afghanistan does not need more troops, a timetable for withdrawal, and [a plan for] cooperating with Karzai, who won an election whose honesty was doubtful to begin with… What Afghanistan needs is a strong army and [new] institutions that must be built over five years at least. Then it needs to begin functioning as a 'democracy in a trial period'...

"Some say that it is too late [to fix the problems] in Iraq, but Obama can still avoid making the same mistakes in Afghanistan. There is no guarantee that the neighboring states, which publically welcomed his plan, will not work behind the scenes to make Washington's job difficult, especially when the latter has set itself a three-year [sic] deadline for withdrawal. The rules of the game in Afghanistan have changed, and the most important thing now is not fighting but patience."[3]

Al-Watan Article and Cartoon Lampoon Obama's Troop Escalation Decision in Afghanistan, Following His Acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize

The daily Al-Watan alluded to Obama's Afghanistan policy in the context of his Nobel Peace Prize. In a front-page piece titled "Obama Gets a Nobel [Peace] Prize while Banging the War Drums," the daily stated that Obama's winning the prize was at complete odds with his decision on a troop surge in Afghanistan.[4] The daily also published a cartoon with a similar message:[5]

The cartoon below was published a few days later:[6]


[2] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), December 6, 2009.

[3] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), December 7, 2009.

[4] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), December 7, 2009.

[5] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), December 9, 2009. Cartoonist: Muhammad Mas'oud.

[6] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), December 13, 2009. Cartoonist: Jihad Awartani.

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