Mission Impossible

The commander in chief’s December 1 lecture at the U.S. Military Academy has to go down in history as one of the strangest presentations ever offered by a war-time president. The robotically-delivered address is defended by administration officials as the culmination of a carefully thought-out “strategy review,” in which Obama proffered the “rationale” for deploying additional troops and explained “The Way Forward in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” Unfortunately, it failed to do any of this.

Though he was standing before West Point’s Corps of Cadets, the president’s remarks were devoid of strategic vision, lacking any definition of victory and empty of the rhetoric elected leaders employ to rally democratic people to a cause requiring the sacrifice of blood and treasure. The speech did, however, provide another Obama “first.” Giving the enemy a timetable for withdrawing American troops while simultaneously committing additional combat forces to a war zone is unprecedented. No commander in chief has ever done such a thing before — because it makes no sense from either a political or military perspective.

To his credit, Obama said, “I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan.” These additional troops, trainers and mobility assets are desperately needed. But he offered no rationale for how he arrived at a number that is 25 percent less than what his hand-picked commander, General Stanley McChrystal requested. Then he devoted five additional passages to defending his statement that, “After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home.”

Since Tuesday, Obama has stopped talking about the war in Afghanistan and moved on to “Creating Jobs” — a topic he raised four times in his West Point speech. He left Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Admiral Mike Mullins, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a host nameless “administration spokesmen” to explain the extraordinary announcement that we will “begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011.”

The contortions required to support this statement were particularly evident in Congressional testimony this week — particularly for Mr. Gates. When the Defense Secretary appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday, Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) said to Mr. Gates: “You said in April 2007, with regard to Iraq, ‘I’ve been pretty clear that I think the enactment of specific deadlines would be a bad mistake.’”

Pence summed up the good sense of most Americans by noting, “I’m someone who believes it never makes sense to tell the enemy when you’re going to quit fighting in a war. Mr. Secretary, I wonder…what’s changed in your view here? What am I missing?”

The defense secretary’s response offers a glimpse into the deceptive double-think so prevalent in the Obama administration: “First of all, I have adamantly opposed deadlines; I opposed them in Iraq and I opposed deadlines in Afghanistan.” Gates continued, “But what the President has announced is the beginning of a process, not the end of a process; and it is clear that this will be a gradual process and — as he said last night — based on conditions on the ground. So there is no deadline for the withdrawal of American forces in Afghanistan.”

The following day, in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mr. Gates said that “July 2011 is the beginning of a process, an inflection point if you will, of when Afghan forces will assume greater responsibility.”

Thus, a publicly announced “troop withdrawal timeline” and a “timeframe for our transition to Afghan responsibility,” won’t tell the Taliban and al Qaeda how long they have to go to ground or hide out. According to the O-Team, July 2011 is just “the beginning of a process,” an “inflection point.” If that’s what they really believe, they aren’t just trying to mislead us — they are deceiving themselves.   

Finally, Obama’s self-centric West Point remarks — he referred to himself no less than 57 times — also prove that he and his speechwriters don’t know history either. He claimed that Afghanistan would not become “another Vietnam,” because “Unlike Vietnam, we are not facing a broad-based popular insurgency.” Whoever wrote these words is simply wrong.

The Republic of Vietnam wasn’t lost to a “popular insurgency.” By April 1969, the Viet Cong had been eliminated as a military threat. The frail, flawed democratic government in Saigon collapsed in April 1975 — three years after the last American combat troops were withdrawn — because in December 1974 the country was invaded and subsequently conquered by a hostile neighbor — North Vietnam — only after the U.S. Congress rebuffed President Gerald Ford’s request for $522 million in emergency aid.

A head of state who distorts the lessons of history is a peril. A leader who tries to deceive himself and his people is dangerous. We can only pray that this commander in chief isn’t committing a hundred thousand young Americans to a mission impossible in the shadows of the Hindu Kush.