Obama stumbles on Iraq, Afghanistan

Barack Obama spent yesterday trying not to think of West Virginia, making an appearance instead in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, where Obama won the primary in February. He also forgot a couple of facts about Iraq and Afghanistan, making two large factual errors and setting off a dispute between his campaign and ABC News. Unfortunately, their rebuttals raised even more questions about Obama’s grasp on facts in the wars (via Memeorandum):

Obama posited — incorrectly — that Arabic translators deployed in Iraq are needed in Afghanistan — forgetting, momentarily, that Afghans don’t speak Arabic.

“We only have a certain number of them and if they are all in Iraq, then its harder for us to use them in Afghanistan,” Obama said. ….

No sooner did Obama realize his mistake — and correct himself — but he immediately made another.

“We need agricultural specialists in Afghanistan, people who can help them develop other crops than heroin poppies, because the drug trade in Afghanistan is what is driving and financing these terrorist networks. So we need agricultural specialists,” he said.

So far, so good.

“But if we are sending them to Baghdad, they’re not in Afghanistan,” Obama said.

Iraq has many problems, but encouraging farmers to grow food instead of opium poppies isn’t one of them. In Iraq, oil fields not poppy fields are a major source of U.S. technical assistance.

This report generated immediate push-back from the Obama camp, which ABC included in an update. They insist that the US needs Arabic translators in Afghanistan to deal with foreign fighters, while noting that the US has indeed sent ag experts to Iraq to rebuild the environment for the Marsh Arabs — and those could be used in Afghanistan instead.

David Wright responds by noting a couple of other points that seem to escape Camp Obama. One, the only people speaking Arabic in Afghanistan are the people shooting at NATO troops. The people whom we want to engage to rebuild Afghanistan don’t speak Arabic. Second, the US usually uses locals as translators, so we didn’t rob Peter to pay Paul in translators by invading Iraq, despite Obama’s spurious claims.

And Obama’s analysis of the agricultural challenges of moving Afghanistan from poppies to peapods is dead wrong. Afghans grow poppies because they lack two critical prerequisites to rely on any other crop: security and infrastructure. In order to make enough money to survive non-growing seasons, Afghans would have to have massive refrigeration and transportation infrastructure improvements. How does a farmer make money when crops can’t get to market fast enough to keep them from spoiling? Perishables such as fruit and vegetables require refrigeration, which requires electricity, and so on. Opium doesn’t spoil, and it can be stored indefinitely under any conditions to be used as a cash substitute outside of growing season.

The Afghans need to establish the proper infrastructure first before massively committing to acceptable crops, and they need to start with reliable roads. However, they cannot even do that until the security situation improves, as the constant attacks by the Taliban and al-Qaeda make it impossible to build the necessary roads, electrical distribution, and refrigeration systems the Afghans require. What would agricultural experts do in Afghanistan while those issues remain unresolved?

Obama’s rhetoric calls into question whether he has any real knowledge of the issues in either Iraq or Afghanistan in any depth beyond that of the latest MoveOn talking points.

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