Obama Gets It Right, Mostly, With His Plan for Afghanistan

By Kathleen Troia "K.T." McFarlandNational Security Expert

President Obama outlined his new Afghanistan-Pakistan policy today, and for the most part, got it right. He laid out a specific strategic objective, "to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda -- in both Afghanistan and Pakistan." He acknowledged the problem isn't confined to Afghanistan, but leeches out to Pakistan -- as Al Qaeda has set up safe havens there.

He also laid out the tactics to achieve that objective -- training Afghan forces, reaching out to tribal leaders to join our cause and turn against Al Qaeda, assisting the Pakistan military and, in a break with Bush administration policy, offering economic and reconstruction assistance to both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

One of the reasons Al Qaeda and its partners the Taliban have been such successful recruiters in Afghanistan, and now Pakistan, is that they've offered a different future to the millions of illiterate young men and women -- a future of jihad and armed struggle instead of the endless cycle of grinding poverty. Building schools, roads and hospitals and helping with economic development in both Pakistan and Afghanistan will offer a third choice.

Obama is on the right course; the question now is whether he can make good on his promises. Will Obama increase the defense spending and foreign assistance necessary to pay for these new programs? Will Congress and the American people pony up for aid to others when we're hurting at home?

Finally, if all does not go according to plan -- if the tribal forces do not turn against Al Qaeda, if the Pakistani government does not hold, if Al Qaeda in both Afghanistan and Pakistan proves difficult to eradicate -- what will Obama do next? The one thing I've learned in my years at the White House and the Pentagon is it's not what you sayyou want to do that counts, it's what you actuallydo. And then when things don't go according to plan, what you do next?

Kathleen Troia "K.T." McFarland served in national security posts in the Nixon, Ford and Reagan administrations. Her Web site is KTMcFarland.com.