Proving once again that he is a very compelling speaker, President Obama had something for everybody last night in laying out his case for sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. In a speech at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Obama gave conservatives what they wanted by sending in more troops, eased the worries of independents and moderates by explaining what he was doing and why he took the length of time he did to make the decision, and threw liberals a bone (or at least tried to, anyway) by setting a goal of starting a withdrawl by July 2011.
President Obama is correct in putting in some kind of exit strategy, even a general one, so we have an idea of how to finish this thing. But I, like a lot of people, am wary of Hamid Karzai and his ability to hold Afghanistan’s notorious factions together solidly enough to have a stable central government. The controversy over his re-election earlier this year didn’t assuage those concerns any. Yes, Karzai is much better than the alternatives (The Taliban or total anarchy), but will only one year with all of the additional troops there be enough? Is Karzai capable of keeping Afghanistan together at all long-term?
Obama would be well-advised to be flexible with that withdrawl date. If Karzai’s government is not capable of defending itself at that point, we need to stay until they are. The last thing the United States (and Obama) need, after all of the billions of dollars spent on this war and the questions about Obama’s leadership, is a repeat of the end of the Vietnam War. The last thing we need is the Taliban and Al Qaeda simply waiting us out under the guise of a “truce,” much like the Viet Cong did (knowing we didn’t have the stomach to fight a guerilla war indefinitely), then overrunning Karzai’s government as soon as the last troop planes take off.
One of the dominant narratives in American politics is that Democrats are wimps, that they’re indecisive, that they don’t stick to their beliefs and that they don’t support national security and defense. This may not really be true, but all to often Democrats do things that give creedence to this notion.
President Obama may be doing so again.
According to the AP:
President Obama is prepared to accept some Taliban involvement in Afghanistan’s political future and appears inclined to send only as many more U.S. troops as needed to keep al-Qaida at bay, a senior administration official said Thursday.
The sharpened focus by Obama’s team on fighting al-Qaida above all other goals, while downgrading the emphasis on the Taliban, comes in the midst of an intensely debated administration review of the increasingly unpopular eight-year-old war.
Though aides stress that the president’s final decision on any changes is still at least two weeks away, the emerging thinking suggests that he would be very unlikely to favor a large military increase of the kind being advocated by the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal.
McChrystal’s troop request is said to include a range of options, from adding as few as 10,000 combat troops to – the general’s strong preference – as many as 40,000.
Obama’s developing strategy on the Taliban will “not tolerate their return to power,” the senior official said in an interview with The Associated Press. But the U.S. would fight only to keep the Taliban from retaking control of Afghanistan’s central government – something it is now far from being capable of – and from giving renewed sanctuary in Afghanistan to al-Qaida, the official said.
One of my biggest criticisms of George W. Bush was that he abandoned the war in Afghanistan, the one that was justified, the one that the rest of the world supported, to launch his quest to settle his Dad’s old score the invasion of Iraq. During his campaign last year, Obama rightly said that Afghanistan was the war we should win. So I find it outrageous that he is now willing to settle for something less than that.
And while I disagree with Senator John McCain (R-AZ) on a lot, he was right when he said this week that we need to go after both the Taliban and Al Qaeda, that if we leave the Taliban with any kind of a chance to take power, terrorists will follow. They may not have the name “Al Qaeda,” but they’ll still have a haven to flourish in.
Should President Obama have had to deal with Afghanistan on top of Iraq and the economy? No. But the bottom line is he does have to deal with them. And he better deal with them a whole lot more forcefully than this.