Tuesday night, after weeks of indecision, Obama finally showed us how he will deal with Afghanistan: he doesn’t know what he’s doing, he’s not going in all the way, and he’s promising his reluctant base that he’ll withdraw before the mission is complete — or what I like to call “the teenage boy” approach to war.
I’m sure the men in the Taliban are smiling today.
There is a military maxim, generally attributed to Gen. George Patton, that “a good plan acted on today is better than a perfect plan put off until tomorrow.” Sadly, the maxim doesn’t tell us what to make of a half-baked plan put off for three months.
The situation Obama found himself in before announcing his plan was not really that difficult. The Afghan war has slipped into disorder and the new commanding officer in the theater, General McChrystal, made a recommendation to the President: We need 40,000 additional troops to jump start a new anti-insurgency strategy and stabilize the situation, then we need to grind the Taliban down over time. This is pretty much a yea or nay decision for a President. You give your military what it believes is necessary, or you don’t — either way you decide quickly. It’s a war, after all.
Obama delayed, agonized, analyzed, procrastinated and then produced his sad bastardization of yea plus nay — a half-hearted compromise, where a bold military decision was needed. He will give the general only 75% of what he asked for and hobble our troops with an arbitrary deadline built around America’s election cycle — we’ll start leaving in mid 2011, regardless of how the war is going at the time. Obama has given the Taliban the best morale boost any insurgent force could ever dream of — a defined finish line. “Hold out another 18 months and we’ll leave,” is the clear message.
All through the 2008 election, Obama and the Democrats claimed that Iraq was distracting them from Afghanistan. Now we know what they meant: Iraq was distracting them from losing Afghanistan. The surge they opposed in Iraq has stabilized that war, so now they can finally concentrate all their talents on blowing Afghanistan.
Much of the media attention on Afghanistan has recently questioned what our mission is there, and opinion polls also indicate that this point is need of clarification. Unfortunately, Obama’s speech did nothing to address this.
Our mission in Afghanistan is actually quite straightforward: to rid it of Al Queda and the Taliban. That’s it. It’s not nation building (although that can be a strategy), and it’s not quick withdrawal. If all we wanted was to not deal with the place, we could have accomplished this on Day Zero by not going in.
Al Queda, using Afghanistan as a base at the invitation of their hosts, the Taliban, massacred 3000 people in America one morning. America went to war against Al Queda and gave clear warning to the Taliban to abandon the partnership. But the Taliban chose to fight alongside Al Qaeda rather than eject them from their safe havens, so we removed them from power. They cannot be allowed back into power. That’s it. That’s our long-term mission in Afghanistan — no Taliban rule.
Afghanistan can be ruled by Hamid Karzai, or Abdullah Abdullah, or a collection of baby-eating warlords, or Howey Mandel. But it cannot be ruled by the Taliban. How Obama could fail to make this point clear and instead muddle through his half-hearted in-and-out strategy is just beyond me.
The surge in Iraq should have taught us that more troops mean fewer troop deaths. Overwhelming force is the best protection any military can be given. By opting for fewer troops than requested, let’s hope that Obama has not made a decision that will cost the lives of soldiers in Iraq. And let’s hope that every decision he makes in the war doesn’t take months and end in politically triangulated half measures.
Otherwise, we’re going to have serous problems in Afghanistan a lot longer than 18 months, regardless of Obama’s inexperienced promises to withdraw.
Cartoon by Brett Noel.