By now most Americans know that detailed planning is not one of this administration’s strengths unless it is about redistribution of wealth or shrinking America’s presence on the world stage. We also know that the President deals with long term strategic objectives the same way he deals with every issue: he puts them through a political prism. So it is not a great leap to make the assumption that our involvement in Afghanistan is something that was just a political statement made in the heat of a campaign speech with little forethought or conviction even though there might have been much calculation. A whim if you will. A cruel joke almost. In the doing, the President-to-be left himself no room to back away from his commitment and we are now stuck in that inhospitable and difficult country and some Americans are dying.
Even if this were not true, it is possible to challenge the premise that Afghanistan is a ‘winnable’ conflict at all. George Friedman’s Stratfor makes this assessment:
” At its core, the Afghan war is unwinnable by force of arms no matter how concentrated the focus is on counterinsurgency. Success – if that is even the right word – requires a political deal with forces that have the ability to actually rule the territory. It is becoming inconveniently and painfully obvious that the government in Kabul and the security forces under its command are not that force. The Taliban may not be that force either, but it is certainly an extremely powerful counterweight that is very aware of the U.S. timetable and the trajectory of American domestic and allied support. It also believes it is winning the war. ”
Notwithstanding this analysis, we seem to be cemented into a policy that we backed into instead of chose with adequate deliberation. Steve Simon in Foreign Affairs magazine described Obama on the stump.
“During the presidential campaign, Obama emphasized that the war in Iraq was the wrong one; it was the effort in Afghanistan, al Qaeda’s base, that was the right war. “Only a comprehensive strategy that prioritizes Afghanistan and the fight against al Qaeda will succeed,” Obama said, “and that’s the change I’ll bring to the White House.” The notion that Afghanistan was the epicenter of global terrorism and would prove to be an enduring source of danger to the United States unless the Taliban were subdued became a recurring theme.”
And President Obama continues to add soaring rhetoric to what’s proving to be something less than sober judgment.
“So I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Quaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future. That is the goal that must be achieved. That is a cause that could not be more just. And to the terrorists who oppose us, my message is the same: we will defeat you.”
Sounds good, but not much strategic vision here. Sort of like being mad at BP or demanding Congress to pass unpopular legislation like Health Care. But Afghanistan is a place where a life and death drama unfolds every day.
Unlike Iraq during the Bush administration, where rightly or wrongly there was deep conviction within the administration that this was an important thing for America to do, in Afghanistan there is no similar guiding impulse. Outside observers would find it difficult not to conclude that Afghanistan is all about what is good for this president and his administration. Obama disparaged Bush for pursuing the deeply held belief that prevailing in Iraq was essential to our security, but he himself persists on an increasingly perilous path which he unconvincingly supports as being right for the nation.
Here then again is our President with less than enlightening ‘strategy’.
‘The United States of America does not quit once we start on something,’ Obama told the US soldiers in his speech, which was aired on Afghan TV. ‘I am confident that you will get the job done here in Afghanistan.’ Remember this ws the Senator and candidate who castigated Bush at every turn and urged him to ‘quit’ Iraq and constantly said the ‘surge’ would be a failure. It didn’t fail and this is something the President must have forgotten when he said those words himself.
Lives lost in Afghanistan are truly in vain. Nothing could be more emblematic of this political policy and attitude than the President’s hesitation in formulating a forward looking plan asked for in the spring last year and delivered in the summer.
It’s time to get out.
It may be possible to win a war in Afghanistan. But that’s not the issue. Is it improbable that this administration can win any war and especially one in the Muslim world with whom this regime in Washington has a special affinity. There’s nothing in Obama’s record or dispositions that would give confidence for such a notion. On the contrary, his recent squabbling with his chosen General Stanley McChrystal, a general who admits voting for Obama for President, underlines his shortcomings as commander in chief and makes the probability of his guiding us to anything but continued military disaster there very real.
There is no saving grace for carrying on an engagement that can’t be defined by this administration except in terms of troop withdrawals. It’s clear that this leadership lacks the ingrained desire to make every effort to do what has to be done to succeed there. Our troops don’t deserve their current fate merely because of pre election posturing. Bring them home.
N. Richard Greenfield is the publisher of the Jewish Ledger in Connecticut and Western Massachusetts.