Obama’s Decision on Afghanistan


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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.

Afghanistan Announcement Map

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?

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  • http://kansasbob.com Kansas Bob

    As an independent conservative I support things like deadlines.. it is refreshing when govt leaders impose restrictions on themselves. I mean really.. only slackers and politicians won’t commit to delivery dates.. working people have deadlines to meet.

    And I am glad at this time that war-hawk-McCain is not calling the shots.. high-risk-craps-shooters like him have never met a deadline that they didn’t BS their way out of :)
    .-= Kansas Bob´s last blog ..What is Detachment? =-.

    • http://www.caffeinatedthoughts.com Shane Vander Hart

      @Kansas Bob, I agree with you that working people have to meet deadlines, but you are comparing apples and oranges. With military action there is always the intangibles that can mess things up.

      I guess the concept of a deadline is more palatable for me if it weren’t broadcast to our enemy. Don’t you think they could hang back and wait for us to leave?

      How do you think WWII would have gone if we had broadcast troop deployments, strategy, and withdrawal dates to the Germans or Japanese? Having this kind of knowledge made public is really pretty historically unprecedented.

      I do hope he can truly wrap this up by 2011.

      • http://kansasbob.com Kansas Bob

        @Shane Vander Hart – interesting that you bring up WWII and not Korea, Vietnam or Desert Storm. I am sure that you do not see the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as something where the entire world is at war. Of course if this were WWIII then we would probably have a national draft and national support.

        IMO these wars we are fighting need to be waged differently than a world war.. our goals should be clear.. our actions should be thought out in detail.. and we must know what the end game looks like.

        Of course I am a chess player and I know that a good beginning and middle game strategy is useless unless you understand the end game :)
        .-= Kansas Bob´s last blog ..Eschatology: Just a Religious Diversion? =-.

      • http://www.caffeinatedthoughts.com Shane Vander Hart

        @Kansas Bob, Again, I agree that an end game is necessary. My problem is making it public.

        How much do we need to know? How much do we let our enemy know?

        I think those who believe that our military commanders under the Bush administration were operating without clear goals, a strategy, and even an endgame… are being presumptuous. They just didn’t advertise it. I believe it is called national security.

        They also wanted victory. I’m afraid we’re going to end up leaving Afghanistan like we left Vietnam (whether we should have been there is a different argument) and I can’t say that was honorable.

      • http://kansasbob.com Kansas Bob

        @Shane Vander Hart – not sure that an honorable exit is possible in either war Shane. I know that soldiers like my son served with honor but do not see honor in the ways that they were treated in the way that they were deployed (stop-gap extensions) or what happened when they returned (drugs given for PTSD instead of therapy).. but I digress.

        About the Bush “strategy” – can you articulate what it was the years before the Petraeus surge strategy? Seems like it should not be too hard to find a strategy if there was one. They may have had a strategy but it sure looked liked like they were just shooting from the hip.. of course it always seemed that way with the ill-thought-out Bush policies.

        I may not agree with the prez 100% but I do think that his strategy has been thought through.. on this one anyway.
        .-= Kansas Bob´s last blog ..Eschatology: Just a Religious Diversion? =-.