-By Warner Todd Huston
One of George W. Bush’s real achievements in Afghanistan was his push for civil rights for Afghani women. Real successes were had as girls were at last allowed to go to school and women began to enter the realm of Afghan politics. Bush made equal rights for Afghan women a priority. Not so with his successor, Barack Obama, and his speech at the opening of the NATO meeting on Afghanistan was yet another missed opportunity to reassert that drive for civil rights in Afghanistan.
The address before NATO during the opening minutes of the first ISAF meeting on Afghanistan — one with Afghan President Hamid Karzai right there in attendance — was the perfect time to at least mention the ongoing quest for equal rights for women in that region. Sadly, even as these rights have slipped backwards in some areas of Afghanistan in the last few years, Obama eschewed any reference to the subject.
At the end of his brief and perfunctory comments, Obama spoke of the “opportunity to ensure our [that] hard-won progress is preserved” and this would have been the perfect chance to at least mention civil rights for women. Instead, President Obama hewed close to the US support for Afghan security forces. “(A)s Afghans stand up they will not stand alone,” the president said as he hailed the “long-term relationship with Afghanistan beyond 2014″ that was being cultivated.
Granted the main discussion here was about arriving at an end to the ISAF combat mission, but there is no reason that Obama couldn’t take just a few words to impress upon Nato, Karzai and the world that the United States is reaffirming it’s role as protector of Afghani women. Unfortunately, even as President Obama has earned a reputation for soaring rhetoric, he’s rarely expended much energy on the issue of civil rights in those areas of the world that are in most need of American support for the same.
As for ex-President Bush and wife Laura, congratulations to them as they continue to pursue their goal of civil rights for the women of Afghanistan. Recently the former First Lady took to the op ed pages of the Washington Post with an impassioned plea for the cause.
Obama looks the lesser man by comparison. Obamaa’s failure to lead is all too typical of his foreign policy.
The meeting room awaits its delegates
German Chancellor Angela Merkel mingles
President Obama enjoys some banter with British PM David Cameron
Secretary General of NATO Anders Fogh Rasmussen opens the meeting as Afghan President Hamid Karzai listens
U.S. Sec. of State Hillary Clinton, British PM David Cameron and President Obama listen as NATO’s Sec. Gen speaks
Obama as he was being introduced by Sec. Gen. Rasmussen
Obama delivering his remarks
Obama’s remarks more or less as given:
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AT ISAF MEETING ON AFGHANISTAN
9:24 A.M. CDT
THE PRESIDENT: Well, good morning, everyone. And for those who are joining us for the first time, welcome to Chicago. I was just hearing from a few folks who are not NATO members that they had fun on the town last night. Hopefully, no stories in the press. (Laughter.)
We come together as 50 nations — NATO allies and partners — that make up the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. I want to welcome the presence of President Karzai, as well as officials from central Asia and Russia — nations that have an important perspective and that continue to provide critical transit for ISAF supplies.
The presence of so many leaders and nations illustrates once again that this is a truly international mission, and that’s because the region and the world have a profound interest in an Afghanistan that is stable, that is secure, and that is not a source of attacks on other nations. And today, as always, our thoughts are with our brave forces who are serving in this vital mission.
Two years ago, in Lisbon, our nations agreed on a framework for transition in Afghanistan that would allow us to responsibly wind down the war. We agreed that this transition to Afghan lead for security would begin in 2011 and that it would conclude in 2014. At the same time, we said that we would seek a long-term partnership with Afghanistan and the Afghan people.
Over the past two years, we’ve made important progress. Our forces broke the Taliban’s momentum. More Afghans are reclaiming their communities. Afghan security forces have grown stronger. And the transition that we agreed to in Lisbon is well underway.
This past week we saw more progress. We very much welcomed President Karzai’s announcement to the third group of areas to begin transition. This means that 75 percent of the Afghan people live in areas where Afghan forces will be moving into the lead.
Today, we’ll decide the next phase of the transition — the next milestone. We’ll set a goal for Afghan forces to take the lead for combat operations across the country in 2013 — next year — so that ISAF can move to a supporting role. This will be another step toward Afghans taking full lead for their security as agreed to by 2014 when the ISAF combat mission will end.
Today is also an opportunity to ensure our hard-won progress is preserved. The Strategic Partnership Agreement that President Karzai and I signed in Kabul ensures that as Afghans stand up they will not stand alone. Today, we can agree on NATO’s long-term relationship with Afghanistan beyond 2014, including our support of Afghan security forces.
So we have a lot of work to do. Again, I want to thank all of my fellow leaders and our partners for being here. Our nations and the world have a vital interest in the success of this mission. And I am confident, because of the leadership represented here as well as the leadership of our outstanding armed forces, that we can advance that goal today and responsibly bring this war to an end.