My obligatory post on President Obama’s speech (transcript here) last night at West Point since I’ve blogged on this before. It’s about time. His approval rating has taken a beating on his handling of Afghanistan I still can’t believe that he took so long to come to this decision, and as an excuse he said:
There has never been an option before me that called for troop deployments before 2010, so there has been no delay or denial of resources necessary for the conduct of the war during this review period. Instead, the review has allowed me to ask the hard questions and to explore all the different options, along with my national security team, our military, and civilian leadership in Afghanistan, and our key partners.
First off, I don’t buy that additional troops weren’t needed until 2010. Second, if that was true waiting until December to make a decision (though I’m sure his commanders knew before we did) prolongs getting troops mobilized to Afghanistan.
Ultimately you know his decision is palatable since the left doesn’t like it. So I’ll have to commend President Obama for his decision to send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. He’s taking the surge approach that worked in Iraq in order to implement a counter-insurgency strategy.
It is also encouraging to see that he does recognize that the Taliban is the enemy as well as, Al-Qaeda:
We must deny al-Qaeda a safe haven. We must reverse the Taliban’s momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government. And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan’s security forces and government, so that they can take lead responsibility for Afghanistan’s future.
The concerns I have about his speech is the timeline:
After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home. These are the resources that we need to seize the initiative, while building the Afghan capacity that can allow for a responsible transition of our forces out of Afghanistan.
Shouldn’t the end-date be when we win? Stratfor notes that much of his strategy depends on NATO’s members cooperation. It also isn’t a strategy for clear victory, as Stratfor in their analysis of this strategy said:
While defending the population and training indigenous security forces were already key focal points of McChrystal’s efforts, what Obama’s new plan does — perhaps for the first time since 2001 — is define an endgame and an exit strategy. Similar to Vietnamization under U.S. President Richard Nixon, Obama’s plan makes the building up of indigenous security forces and setting them up for success the primary focus of the next few years, with the explicit intention of handing over responsibility for security to the Afghans. While this was certainly part of McChrystal’s ultimate plan, it was only on Dec. 1 that the mission was clearly defined and a broad timetable described (though it contains considerable wiggle room, and a re-evaluation in December 2010 will further refine the plan).
The comparison to “Vietnamization” makes me uncomfortable as we saw how well that turned out for South Vietnam. Which is my concern for Afghanistan. This is a harder challenge than even Iraq as Iraq had a functioning government beforehand, not the case with Afghanistan. Nation building takes time.
General McChrystal is supportive of the timeline according to USA Today:
Shortly after Obama’s speech, Gen. Stanley McChrystal told reporters, "I am absolutely supportive of the timeline," and that the time ahead would be used to build up Afghan forces to convince the people of this war-ravaged country that they can eventually take care of their own security.
"In a counterinsurgency, what we’re really trying to do is protect the people," he said. McChrystal added that if the Afghan government used the time to increase its capabilities "then it makes it much more difficult for the insurgents returning."
"But to a degree the insurgents can’t afford to leave the battlefield while the government of Afghanistan expands its capacity," he said.
President Obama did say they would take into account conditions on the ground:
Now, taken together, these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011. Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground.
This timetable seems to be politically expedient which Stratfor notes. Notice this will happen right before 2012. Hmmm…. He does give himself some wiggle room, but I honestly don’t see this happening by July 2011. I hope I’m wrong. I share Senator John McCain’s concern about a timetable. In a statement today he said:
What I do not support, and what concerns me greatly, is the President’s decision to set an arbitrary date to begin withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan. A date for withdrawal sends exactly the wrong message to both our friends and our enemies – in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the entire region – all of whom currently doubt whether America is committed to winning this war. A withdrawal date only emboldens Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, while dispiriting our Afghan partners and making it less likely that they will risk their lives to take our side in this fight.
Success is the real exit strategy. When we have achieved our goals in Afghanistan, our troops should begin to return home with honor, but that withdrawal should be based on conditions on the ground, not arbitrary deadlines.
The other thing that bothers me and what I think is most instructive about this speech is that in this speech, not once was victory mentioned. Not very inspiring, and that is what our troops need to hear the most. So are we really in this to win it?