President Obama, December 1, 2009: “[W]hat is at stake is the security of our allies, and the common security of the world. . . we’ll begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011.”
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, December 6, 2009: “We’re not talking about an abrupt withdrawal. We’re talking about something that will take place over a period of time. . . ."
Secretary of State Hillary, December 6, 2009 “We’re not talking about an exit strategy or a drop-dead deadline. . ."
National Security Adviser General James L. Jones, December 7, 2009: “We’re going to be in the region for a long time.”
Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, of the July 2011 drawdown date: “It won’t happen later."
So what exactly is the President’s strategy in Afghanistan, and what is prompting all the obfuscation of it? No one is entirely sure.
Clearly, he understands the dangers and has for some time. Consider candidate Obama’s words in July 2008: “The situation in Afghanistan is perilous and urgent. We must act now to reverse a deteriorating situation. I called over a year ago for additional U.S. troops to be placed in Afghanistan.”
Fast forward to last Tuesday night. The President said “. . . [O]ur security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is the epicenter of violent extremism practiced by al Qaeda.”
Why, then, after repeatedly acknowledging the significance of Afghanistan, did he give our military only three quarters of what it requested three long months ago, while putting an arbitrary timeline on our exit from the country?
General Stanley McChrystal said he needed 40,000 troops to be successful. The President announced he won’t get them. He then demanded that our under-equipped military win the complicated war within a narrow window.
Something is not right here. If there is such urgency to be out, what is the rationale for granting the military only a portion of what it requested to get the job done — a request that was made without the added burden of a timeline. Why not send even more troops now that a deadline is imposed? The military has consistently argued that timelines inhibit their ability to do their job by giving the enemy incentive to hold on.
What’s worse than the timeline and stiffing McChrystal on his troop request was the parade of top level officials sent out to “clarify” his message. How helpful is the most important Presidential address on the war thus far when it needs clarification? Because there has been pushback on the timeline in the media and even from some liberals, Obama’s foreign policy aides now insist there is no timeline. But we all heard one last week. Loud and clear. Obama can claim to his base that he set a timeline while his operatives give him cover with everyone else. Of course, it won’t work. That’s not a strategy. It’s calculated maneuvering, focused on appeasing a base led by Code Pink and MoveOn.org, not battlefield victory.
It is clear that Obama has no idea what he’s doing from a military standpoint. Our only hope is that the military does, and that they are able to play on Obama’s indecisive instincts to push through success in Afghanistan, timetable or no timetable. Many contend that is what McChrystal has already done: interpreting the President’s vague strategic pronunciations both in March and December any way he chooses. What he cannot interpret is troop levels and funding. For that, he is beholden to Obama.
Arguably, the President has no intention of winning in the traditional, FDR “we can, we will, we must” sense. He is giving himself just enough cover to get out as soon as politically possible, at which time he can throw the military under the bus. If we lose, he will say he did all he could, but that it was our military that did not perform. That is in accord with his instincts as well as the demands of the Left.
Just look back to his June 4 speech in Cairo. His instincts tell him that we have done something wrong. “The fear and anger that [9-11] provoked was understandable. But in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our traditions and our ideals.” That would be like FDR saying in hindsight that fear and anger from Pearl Harbor led us to act contrary to our ideals. Win, lose or draw, he can’t wait to get out.
If he does plan to win, Obama can demonstrate it by taking a page from President Reagan’s successful strategy in winning the Cold War. Reagan won because he rallied the nation to a just and noble cause; because he knew who the enemy was, and he wasn’t afraid to call them just that; because he built up (and backed up) our military and was willing to commit the resources necessary to be successful; and because he stood by our allies who had the courage to stand up to the Evil Empire, never minimizing their suffering or comparing it to that of our enemies.
Instead of praising this President for his “courage” in making a “politically difficult decision,” or for his halting, passionless speech that continued to undermine our mission (“our unity on national security issues [is] in tatters”), conservatives should demand that Obama either fight toward clear victory, or withdraw now before the blood of another U.S. soldier is spilt.
That’s a tough message for conservatives, as evidenced by their general unwillingness to say it. But no one is required, because of the bonds of patriotism, to concur when a wartime strategy is vague and defeatist. Many rightly believe that we must win this war because “the common security of the world” is at stake. But if we are to win, the President must begin a new page: articulate that our goal is victory and our top priority is the security of the American people; express intolerance for enemies at home and abroad who attack and target our nation; defend and promote the military with passion, providing them all the resources they need to win; cease this absurd justification of the actions of our enemies; rob our enemies of morale victories by calling enemy combatants just that and prosecuting them accordingly; and insisting on nothing less than a compelling, determined path to victory. Anything less is a gesture to his base and a determined, cynical path to surrender.