I am sure you all remember the famous gaffe by Senator John Kerry during his candidacy to the Presidency for the 2004 election. This famous gaffe was:
“I voted for the war, before I voted against it”
This was referring to the fact that during the run-up to the start of the Iraq war in 2003, the Senate and the House, overwhelmingly voted to support the war. Without debating as to the reasons and/or merit of the war, or lack thereof, the message that voters saw on this statement from Candidate John Kerry was a lack of leadership, which most of the American people agree is required to be Commander in Chief,
Now let’s go forward a few years, to the 2008 Presidential Campaign, where Candidate Obama repeatedly criticized the War in Iraq, but stated that Afghanistan was in fact the “just war”. This was a masterful political statement which resonated with many Americans who by then were tired of the war in Iraq. They recognized that it was from Afghanistan that Osama Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda terrorist organization planned the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania after a heroic effort by its passenger and that most experts agree was bound for an attack against a major target in Washington, DC.
Soon after Obama had been sworn as President of the United States on January 20, 2009 the pressure was on, for now President Obama, to make a decision on the Afghan war. During the Spring he named General McCrystal as the new Commander of the war effort in Afghanistan and the general’s marching orders were to develop a new strategy for the “just war”.
In August General McCrystal presented the new strategy to win the war, the addition of another 40,000 American soldiers. The strategy, similar to the “surge” in Iraq, is to have enough troops on the ground to be able to not only push Taliban terrorist out of their current strongholds, but once they clear them to actually hold the area and bring locals in with the confidence that they will be secured and protected.
Unfortunately, President Obama, who is always in a hurry to pass his left wing legislations has taken over 3 months to make a decision on General MCCrystal’s request. I am sure you all remember the so-called “Stimulus Bill? It had to be approved immediately, yet Obama then waited 4 days and had to fly to Colorado for a media photo op where he signed the bill. Same thing with the so-called Health Care Bill, he wants it passed right away, but the only thing that will start immediately is the collection of the new taxes and fees, while actual benefits do not start for almost 4 years.
On Tuesday December 1, 2009, Obama finally made his “decision speech” on General McCrystal’s recommendations. Instead of the 40,000 troops requested, he approved only 30,000 troops and the buildup will take place over the next 8 months ( the Surge in Iraq was completed in a period of about 4 months). He also announced that NATO countries were considering sending some additional troops also to try to get as close as possible to the extra 40,000 troops requested. The problem with that is the fact that the European NATO allies are for the most part unwilling to send troops to be put in harm’s way. German and French troops, for instance, are mostly involved in training type operations and stay in their barracks, Even the British troops are deployed on very limited actual combat operations. While there is a need for training the Afghanistanis to defend themselves, the urgent mission at hand is to first clear the towns and cities of Taliban and Al Qaeda terrorists and then begin the task of building security forces, including police and other civilian services. Therefore, the extra NATO troops will not really be very helpful immediately (when they are most needed) on the job at hand and the increase in troops for actual combat operations is only 75% of what is needed. Just picture FDR during WW II telling General Eisenhower, that he would have to carry out the liberation of Europe with 75% of the troops requested.
Nevertheless, while over 3 months late and a commitment to send less troops than that needed to do the job, at least a decision was made. Now, come the real bad part. At the same time that Obama committed the additional troops, he also set a timetable to start withdrawal of our troops. This was Obama’s John Kerry’s moment, “he is adding more troops at the same time he is proposing their withdrawal”.
While we all have heard that there is a need for an “exit strategy”, again referring to WW II picture what would have happened if FDR had told General Eisenhower in Europe, General Macarthur and Admiral Nimitz in the Pacific, that they had a deadlines and announce that in his address to the nation. All the enemy had to do was hunker down until the withdrawal deadline arrived. Luckily this was not the case. However, what do you think the Taliban and Al Qaeda strategy will be now? They know that the American troops have a deadline so they can change tactics to wait it out.
Many on the press have stated, that in actuality, Obama will only withdraw the troops if conditions on the ground warrant it. Unfortunately, they do not understand or want to accept the fact that the Afghan people, will think twice before they side with us against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. They will fear that if they do that they will be killed as soon as we leave, and that is the most likely scenario. We have seen that already in Iraq before the surge and have also seen it in Afghanistan. Those who help the allied forces are regularly kidnapped and beheaded. To win in Afghanistan we need for the population to have confidence on their security and safety and Obama’s announcement of a withdrawal deadline does not provide any level of confidence. No matter the caveats that withdrawal will only take place based “on conditions on the ground”, the seed of doubt has been planted and if you are concerned for your survival and that of your family, you are more careful as to who do you ally yourself with.
While for years we have heard the need to have an exit strategy from any war, the fact is that the US has never had an exit strategy while fighting the wars we have been involved in. The primary objective was always victory and after winning then came plans, very often not optimal, for withdrawal. As a matter of fact WW II ended almost 65 years ago and we still have troops in Europe and Japan. The Korean was ended (not officially since North Korea is till theoretically at with the South) in 1953, yet, we still have American troops there. Kosovo and Bosnia operations took place in the 90’s, but we still have troops there. No leader has ever publicly outlined an exit strategy from the battlefield before actually achieving victory.
Warfare 101, tells you that in order to win a war, you must be fully committed to it, otherwise why sacrifice lives and treasury on a cause that may be doomed to failure because artificial deadlines to satisfy a political objective?
President Obama’s decision to buck his own party and supporters is to be praised and we all should pray and hope that we succeed. However, his withdrawal deadline (even if is actually not carried out) will make the tasks of our heroic American troops and their leaders, much more difficult and unfortunately costly, in lives and suffering, not only for our troops and that of our allies, but also for the Afghan people. Worse yet, the fact that withdrawal was mentioned by the Commander in Chief, may make victory and unachievable objective.