Obama's Afghanistan Dilemma

OCTOBER 20, 2009

In the current ROLLING STONE,  an article written for the ‘National Affairs’ section, highlighting the problems Obama faces in coming to a decision on how to deal with Afghanistan became an interesting challenge for an illustration. 


Here’s where an editorial illustrator who normally is on the same or very similar page with the publication he’s working for tries to work out a solution that expresses the editorial point of view but also manages to throw in nuances that express his own ambivalence.  The article pretty clearly paints a picture of military higher ups trying to force Obama’s hand to expand the fight there and is very critical of that move.  I find myself very torn over this matter as I can’t see any good solution and am struck by very strong arguments being made, pro and con, regarding expanding the fight.  All very plausible, all probably wrong in some fundamental way, as we are dealing with a terribly irrational part of the world, a world I doubt any of us can grasp.  


I was particularly taken off guard by the great Pakistani journalist, Ahmed Rashid and his very vocal support for continued military action in Afghanistan and his dire warnings of how these Islamic fanatics will view any backing away by the US as a show of weakness and further embolden them to expand their objectives.   Rashid, the author of TALIBAN, JIHAD, and DESCENT INTO CHAOS, argued strongly against the military adventure in Iraq but not so regarding possible US expansion in the Afghan theater.  His recent commentary further reinforced the reality that this is not a black/white foreign policy decision.   Lots of grey area here.


So, I approached this image not with a desire to show the military as some gang cornering or pushing Obama into a fight, but focusing on Obama being squeezed between two equally dangerous possibilities.  Under no circumstances was I going to give the Taliban any light glove treatment in an image like this as I have no illusions as to the nihilistic gangsterism they represent under the guise of religion.


My initial sketches were an attempt to show this precarious tightrope act that Obama is currently in the middle of.  Editorial was looking for something emphasizing the military pressure.  I came back with an idea showing that, but also showing the pressure being exerted by the Taliban/AlQaeda from the other end.  Like a long necked bird waiting for the chopping block Obama’s neck was stretched to a fragile point.

I would not want to be in his shoes.  He must know that whatever he decides will have negative consequences not currently foreseen. 

A subtle point here I forgot to mention. While showing the military leaning on Obama, I didn't want this to be interpreted as a SEVEN DAYS IN MAY scenario so I kept the finger off the trigger.
Same idea- two different views. One looking down on a mountainous Afghan landscape, the other looking up at storm clouds.
It was a very positive okay on this sketch with just one question from Steve Charny "...why are his ears square?" I explained it was just quick scribbling.