Afghanistan: A Question From A Client Session

I haven’t done this a great deal but I thought you might be interested. Yesterday, at a session with a client (the top management of an organization), I received a question on President Obama’s upcoming speech on Afghanistan. At the time of my session, the speech had not yet been made. This person wanted to know my historical “take” on it ahead of time. As it turned out, I didn’t watch or listen or read the speech. Still, I thought you might be intrigued with my instinctive, “gut” reaction to the question. Here’s my answer as I best recollect it.

First, history has several telling slices in this instance. Among them: the history of Afghanistan and the fate of external armies (e.g. British and Soviet); the history of U.S. involvement in messy unconventional wars (e.g. Vietnam, Philippines); the history of U.S. post-9-11; the history of Obama, to name just a few. There isn’t one major source of historical insight. There are many.

Second, in this case, I tend to boil everything to two fundamental points. I think fundamental points are highly valuable in complex situations. Afghanistan certainly qualifies as that. Here, my fundamental points are: 1) you don’t want a repeat of 9-11 where Afghanistan played a key role in the execution of that tragedy; and 2) you don’t want Afghanistan contributing to problems in Pakistan. In my view, these two points override everything else. What you do must support the pursuit of either or both of these points.

This is how I would frame, conceive, and craft any major address or presentation on Afghanistan policy as a leader. I’ll leave it to your opinion as to whether President Obama’s actual speech meets my criteria.

By the way, my client session was on US Air Flight 1549.