Former six-term Minnesota Republican Congressman Vin Weber spoke at the Humphrey Institute on Thursday afternoon to discuss the burgeoning national security challenges facing President Barack Obama.

Weber says Obama, and most Americans, have intensely focused on domestic policy issues over the past nine months, much like Obama’s predecessor George W. Bush, who had intended to concentrate his administration’s priorities on domestic issues like health care and education when he first took office.

At first, Weber said, Republicans were comfortable with Obama in light of the national security and foreign policy team he put in place (Defense Secretary Robert Gates, special envoys George Mitchell in the Middle East and Richard Holbrooke in Afghanistan / Pakistan etc.). These selections, “inspired confidence across the board” in conservative circles.

As a result, the initial debates in Washington, D.C. and across the country have been largely centered on Obama’s economic, energy, and health care plans.

World events, however, have a way of reshaping presidential agendas.

The terrorist attacks of 2001 caused the legacy of President Bush, who Weber said had “no experience whatsoever” in foreign affairs, to ultimately be judged on his foreign policy record.

So too, according to Weber, will Obama need to shift his focus to engage in several pressing national security concerns, any one of which could come to a head in the next six months – Iran’s nuclear weapons program, North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, the deterioration of the situation in Iraq as the U.S. scales back its presence, the linkages between Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Iran, and terrorism, and the brewing Mexican war between its government and narco-terrorists.

Weber added that while none of these problems are assured to boil over in the immediate future, “The world has been getting more dangerous as we’ve been arguing about health care.”

Weber spent the plurality of his talk discussing what he believes to be the gravest national security concern facing the United States – AfPak, a term used in foreign policy circles to discuss the problems of Afghanistan and Pakistan as an interrelated, single theater of operations.

Weber says that while the election of Barack Obama has improved the public’s view of the United States in most nations across the world, public opinion of America has gotten even worse in Pakistan.

Now, as security concerns mount in Afghanistan, Obama is at a crossroads. If he sends the estimated 30,000 to 40,000 troops to Afghanistan that General Stanley McChrystal may request, Weber believes that act would split the Democratic Party, making it harder for Obama to get other agenda items through Congress.

But if Obama opts for a compromise approach, and sends only 15,000-20,000 troops, Weber says Republicans will accuse Obama of underfunding the war by yielding to the left. Weber suggested this might be the worst policy option on the table, as Obama is going to need the GOP to get his national security policies through Congress, in light of a significant number of liberal Democrats unwilling to support continued military action.

And if Obama should start pulling American troops out of Afghanistan in an effort to end the war, as many on the left and a growing number of critics on the right have suggested (e.g. Pat Buchanan, George Will), Weber says, “Things will go very bad, very quickly,” with the Taliban likely to take control of a nation that does not have a security force prepared to keep order across the vast nation.

Weber admits, however, that it would be a mistake to underestimate the consequences of the war in Afghanistan simply because it was once viewed as the ‘good war’ here in the United States. Weber says the mission is not clear and, “The Afghan war is doing us damage in the Muslim world.”

The cost is also increasingly taking its toll on American soldiers and their families.

U.S. troop fatalities in Afghanistan are not only higher in 2009 (213) than in any of the previous eight years of the conflict, but several coalition partners have also endured a record number of deaths already this year including the UK (80), Canada (25), Italy (8), Australia (4), Estonia (3), Latvia (2), Turkey (2), and Belgium (1).

Overall, U.S. troop fatalities are on pace to reach 292 in Afghanistan in 2009, up 37 percent from 2008 and greater than the first five wars of the war combined (260). However, that number is likely to go even higher by year’s end, as fighting has escalated in recent months to record levels. As of mid-June, the U.S. was on pace for 163 fatalities for the year, but July, August, and September have been the bloodiest three months of the campaign to date.

U.S. and Coalition Military Fatalities in Afghanistan, 2001-2009

Big 3
All coalition
2009 projected

* Through September 23, 2009. Source:

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  1. Anonymous on September 25, 2009 at 6:58 am

    The “original” goal was to remove Al Qaeda from Afghanistan, and we have reached that goal. There is not one member of the military that will say, at least convincingly that Al Qaeda is still in Afghanistan.

    You are not going to solve 2000 years of problems in the 2 to 4 years of the first tour of the Obama administration. We didn’t do the job in the 8 years of the Bush administration. This is a very rugged place. The people are spread far and wide with very few roads in between.

    If you want to do whatever it takes, it will be a twenty year and a very expensive commitment. And we don’t even have an army to do it. We have about 500,000 troops total. When they talk about building up they talk about 10,000 more this year and 10,000 more that year and this is not enough to do the job. We don’t have enough money left in our treasury to do the job.

    Its time to fish or cut bait. We owe them as much aid as we can afford. We owe them training to build a bigger more effective army so they can do these things themselves.

    We’ve wasted 8 years, lots of money and a lot of lives. And now we say “but now we are going to get serious”. Well now we can’t get serious. We don’t have the wherewithal, we don’t have the facilities, we don’t have the manpower and we don’t have the money. We have a lot of problem here at home that have to be dealt with. I’m sorry, I don’t think we can afford this, whatever the consequences.

    I hope the president thinks long and hard. I hope he studies this up and down. I hope he takes some advice outside of the usual suspects in Washington D.C. and across the river at the Pentagon. This is not working it is not going to work and we can’t afford it. How much clearer can it be? You don’t need to be getting the country bogged down in another sand dune, another swamp. We cannot police the world. We thought we could and every time we thought that it has not worked out very well. We don’t have to do this. There are always reasons not to draw the sword, to not to go to war. Its just that they are seldom looked at in a timely fashion.

    The best we can hope for is that the inhabitants of Afghanistan will like their government more than they will like the Taliban. And with all due respect. I believe that we will ultimately negotiate a settlement with the Taliban.

    Look, there is a massively corrupt government operating Afghanistan as it is. President Karzai’s brother is a drug lord. It doesn’t get any clearer than that…

    With all due respect to Vin Weber, he is a partisan with a ideological point of view and really nothing more sophisticated than that. And as such should be taken in that context. My experience is more of a former DIA type of experience. Where the political is not to be confused with reality…………….

  2. Mobile Detailing on September 26, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    It is hard for me to accept the premise of the anonymous post that precedes mine. “Al Qaeda is gone, last 8 years blah blah blah, we can’t afford to do any more.”

    If we leave tomorrow, Al Qaeda will be back the day after. I have to believe they would love to have free reign in Afghanistan to operate freely once again.

    What I do not understand is why this is viewed a US problem, or a NATO problem. Isn’t it obvious to Germany, Russia, and the Netherlands, that this is their problem as well. Much of the world continues to sit back and critique our efforts as we are expected to resolve problems throughout the world.

    It can be argued that it will be too costly for the US to resolve the long term challenges in Afghanistan, but it is obvious we can’t simply walk away. It is time to send the world a bill for what we have already done and invite, no require, that they pitch in to help create a stable environment before we leave.

    I have to believe there are sufficient resources on Earth to handle this challenge so that we do not leave a vacuum for Al Qaeda to occupy.

    Perhaps it is time to replace the UN with some sort of World body that has some ability to resolve world issues such as this.

  3. Anonymous on September 27, 2009 at 10:48 am

    With all do respect to “wax on, wax off” which precedes this post.

    There is ample agreement both inside the pentagon and in the intelligence communities, that the Taliban considers Al Qaeda a group that if would prefer to sever all relations with.

    The simple premise is that if the Taliban had not made the original mistake in judgment to give pre 9-11 sanctuary to Al Qaeda. The Taliban would still have control over their country and would have never been invaded. It is in the Taliban’s best interests for them to sever all connections to Al Qaeda.

    I have been told that most all intelligence analysts do not believe that Al Qaeda will be allowed to return. The Taliban believes that the cost would be too high to let that happen again. The carrot and stick does have an application in this instance. The administration is plainly having serious second thoughts about Afghanistan and is not trying particularly hard to conceal them.

    General McChrystal’s chief conclusion is that success in Afghanistan does not depend on killing more Taliban fighters. It depends on winning the confidence of Afghans who have been alienated by widespread corruption under President Hamid Karzai and have little reason to support their own government. “A foreign army alone cannot beat an insurgency,” is the general’s conclusion.

    As long as the Taliban has support among the population, and there is no viable alternative for the public to support. Then its “game, set, match”.

    When you mention sufficient resources to handle this challenge, please refer to our countries debt service that most conservatives have made political hay about……

    The question that needs to be asked: Is there the political will in this country to give another ten years in Afghanistan? Its been almost nine years thus far and what do we have to show for it?

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