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Obama's legacy hinges on Afghanistan

10:59, December 04, 2009

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By Li Hong, People's Daily Online

U.S. President Barrack Obama's decree to send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan in his desperate pursuit of a quick triumph in Central Asia has touched off a firestorm of debate in America. Many oppose the escalation, despite hardcore Republicans stand firmly behind Obama's difficult decision.

Most Americans become increasingly weary of a "perpetuated war" in Afghanistan, as they fret about any troop surge will incur more casualties on the battle field, and more, financially feeble an country already weakened by a chilling recession. Some even ask for more precious resources to be used on America's own nation-building, in stead of pacifying insurgents abroad.

Obama's military arguments are not short of persuasiveness. He said at the West Point military academy that the United States faces "no hypothetical threat" -- the danger is real -- and he is convinced that America's security is at stake in Afghanistan and its border with Pakistan, where he named as the "epicenter of the violent extremism practiced by Al Qaeda," arch enemies of Uncle Sam.

However, there is other better ways to attain one's goals than sending service men and women to harm's way. Chinese history entails us many beautiful tales of winning foes without going to the battle line. By forcing one's opponents to kowtow to you at gunpoint, or with advanced Predator drone-fired missiles, we believe, isn't always the best strategy. On the contrary, it often backfires, hardening the heart of your enemies to harm you in whatever desperate way they could think.

For a time, foreign media have written, some sarcastically, that China is honing its image as a rising "benign power" on the global arena. One could keep qualms about this country's unique management of its foreign affairs, or even second-guess this country's intentions of extending helping hands to many small, weak, or impoverished countries, but Beijing is winning respects and genuine friends in the world.

And, some prominent American authors are now asking the Obama administration for a reevaluation of its "stick" foreign policy. Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times argued in his latest column that "if Mr. Obama wants success in Afghanistan, he would be far better off with 30,000 more schools than 30,000 more troops". As the annual budget for a soldier is estimated at one million dollars, 30 billion dollars is sufficient for erecting 30,000 schools.

With military spending in Afghanistan alone is expected to exceed 100 billion dollars in 2010, the United States could divert that amount to assist the poverty-stricken country do more to improve infrastructure, people's livelihood and stabilize society. On the contrary, Mr. Kristof warned that Obama has embarked on a buildup that may "become an albatross on his presidency".

Or, wait! Maybe the young president has begun to think about his legacy, or at least his re-election in 2012. Any explicit manifestation of American weakness while he is at the steering will draw barbs from the conservatives, and sneers from America's allies. Obama just cannot face it! Despite his Vice-President Joe Biden consistently opposing the troop surge to Afghanistan, Obama opted to show his muscle.

Iraq might also factor in Obama's decision-making. Now the whole world gets an illusion that the war in Iraq is ending in a great American triumph, despite the persistence of violence in Iraq even today. George W. Bush approved Iraqi troop surge asked by General David Petraeus, and Bush was sweetened by a "tangible result". Now, General Stanley McChrystal, the top American commander in Afghanistan, has also requested a troop buildup, Obama can hardly say no.

The articles in this column represent the author's views only. They do not represent opinions of People's Daily or People's Daily Online.

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About this column

After 19 years working for China Daily and its website, Li Hong moved to english.people.com.cn in March 2009.

Li has been a reporter and column writer, mainly on China's economy and politics.

He was graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University, and once studied in University of Hawaii and the Poynter Institute in Florida.

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