Afghanistan, Obama's Achilles Heel

The White House has had a few laughs recently poking fun at RNC Chairman Michael Steele.  The most recent gaffe they’re pointing to is Steele’s comment surrounding Afghanistan and the possibility the war cannot be won.  White House operatives lit up the Internet with charges and accusations that Steele and his GOP friends were ready to throw in the towel while troops were still on the ground.  Never mind that when similar arguments were made during candidate Obama’s campaign, Democrats howled in protest and stumbled over themselves to appear "patriotic."

But such shenanigans have no real place in this debate and war that has been ongoing now for close to a decade.  The political back-and-forth is about as impressive as the stops and starts regarding America’s policy in Afghanistan, and that must change first if we’re ever going to bring our soldiers home. If Iraq was Bush’s Achilles heel for all our sakes we pray that Afghanistan will not be Obama’s.  Only real commitment can change the course of history – commitment unconstrained by timelines and driven by a real sense of purpose!

What further complicates the White House’s views toward Afghanistan was the politically-charged promise President Obama made to the American people while campaigning in 2008.  Sensing the electorate’s frustrations toward Iraq, and to a lesser extent, Afghanistan, Obama said he would begin bringing our troops home from Afghanistan by 2011.  To be more precise, that’s July of next year, almost one year to the date.  And if anything, the prospects of securing any sort of peace in the region are worsening, not improving.

To be balanced subsequent strategic engagements with the Karzai administration have focused on shifting the dialogue surrounding the 2011 date.  Initially the July 2011 timetable was intended to serve as a way to focus our Afghan political colleagues to rapidly assume the reins and frankly to communicate that the United States can’t want a free and stable Afghanistan more than the Karzai team.  However, like many things in Washington a complex and lengthy integrated strategic plan with an equally complex political-military campaign plan rapidly turned into a sound byte – "we’re out in 2011" – a message the White House needs to continue to counter. 

The complexity of our foreign engagements should give all Americans a better appreciation and respect for what any president must manage and lead in these perilous times. This certainly, after many conversations with top military brass over the last week has given me pause and grave concern about what this President and his administration now faces in Afghanistan. We should all hold out hope that the best is still yet to come from our young leader after so many gaffes and missteps concerning this complex and growing explosive situation. It is during these challenging times that we in our history that will determine the future of the lone super power in the world. Obviously transitioning from McCrystal to Petraeus has been most difficult and painful for President Obama and his policies in that region.

Again the most recent strategic dialogues with Karzai here in Washington communicated the enduring nature of the U.S. commitment and with the President’s decision to send the nation’s best General to Afghanistan there is potentially hope. This summer fighting season is going to be long and hard – much like summer 2007 in Iraq where we saw violence reach an all time high and then rapidly drop off.  Violence has remained low in Iraq despite our continued drawdown of forces and transition to a new role.  Iraq may serve as a lasting testament to our military’s exceptional capacity to partner and build host nation forces and potentially a sign that we can in fact finish our mission in Afghanistan once and for all.  Before we can accurately assess if the President’s Strategy can work or not we do need to let the final forces arrive late this summer into Afghanistan.  Once arrived these forces will take time to transition into the country side where they will focus on developing the Afghan National Security Forces and protecting and serving the population.  Violence as we know in Afghanistan is seasonal – but the key question is how fast can we arrest rising level of violence so that this winter season is lower vice higher than the last and that by summer 2011 we are at least making progress.

So I ask again, "why the deadline?"  Why not drop such a capricious timetable and focus instead on the task at hand?  It’s clouding most everything we’re doing in-country.  Instead of trying to stabilize the pockets of resistance and defeating the Taliban, it appears the State Department is more focused on propping up a banana republic with the Karzai administration.  First things first.  Why not discard some timeline and just win this darn thing??