Having vowed to "finish the job," Obama revealed Tuesday that he thinks the job in Afghanistan is to get out of Afghanistan. This is an unserious policy.
Now, I would quibble a little with the beginning: if we're fighting an endless but formless war then a strategic retreat would be a good policy. But the plan for what Will calls a "surgelet" doesn't look much like a strategic retreat, at least not to me; and setting an arbitrary deadline nineteen months into the future for troop withdrawals begs the question: why not sooner? Why not now?
Obama's surge will bring to 51,000 his Afghanistan escalation since March. Supposedly this will buy time for Afghan forces to become adequate. But it is not intended to buy much time: Although the war is in its 98th month, Obama's "Mission Accomplished" banner will be unfurled 19 months from now -- when Afghanistan's security forces supposedly will be self-sufficient. He must know this will not happen.
In a spate of mid-November interviews -- while participating in the president's protracted rethinking of policy -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described America's Afghanistan goal(s) somewhat differently. They are "to defeat al-Qaeda and its extremist allies" because "al-Qaeda and the other extremists are part of a syndicate of terror, with al-Qaeda still being an inspiration, a funder, a trainer, an equipper and director of a lot of what goes on." And: "We want to do everything we can to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda." And: "We want to get the people who attacked us." And: "We want to get al-Qaeda." And: "We are in Afghanistan because we cannot permit the return of a staging platform for terrorists." [...]
The president's party will not support his new policy, his budget will not accommodate it, our overstretched and worn-down military will be hard-pressed to execute it, and Americans' patience will not be commensurate with Afghanistan's limitless demands for it. This will not end well.
A case can be made for a serious, meaning larger and more protracted, surge. A better case can be made for a radically reduced investment of resources and prestige in that forlorn country. Obama has not made a convincing case for his tentative surgelet.
One thing I've started to notice is how frequently the MSM is using the word "quagmire" in its discussions of Afghanistan, and our involvement there. There have even been some whispered comparisons to Vietnam, though the casualties our forces experienced there dwarf the Afghanistan numbers thus far. There is concern out there that we don't have a clear exit strategy regarding Afghanistan, and that we may continue to send troops and resources to fight an increasingly nebulous enemy in a country which has never been kind to outside forces.
President Obama, in his speech, went out of his way to reject the Vietnam comparisons and to insist that "...our troop commitment in Afghanistan cannot be open- ended..." I think those are fair enough things to say--but does anyone really believe that the situation in Afghanistan will be significantly better nineteen months and 30,000 new troops down the line than it is today? And if not, why not begin withdrawing the troops we still have there, instead of sending more to join them?