President Obama on Tuesday night went to the United States Military Academy at West Point (described as the “enemy camp” by Chris Matthews) to announce his strategy for Afghanistan. He gave a speech with over 4,600 words, and none of those words were either “victory” or “win.” In fact, there was nothing in the speech that should give anybody any confidence that the President is interested in actually winning in Afghanistan.
This is not to say that the United States could not win in Afghanistan; only that we will not win when we plan our retreat before we start. There is a big difference between the United States’ efforts in Afghanistan and the oft-cited Soviet efforts there. The Soviets were trying to conquer and occupy Afghanistan (I still have not figured out why they were interested in it; after all, it has always been a third-world hellhole with no natural resources). The United States is not trying to conquer or occupy; only to prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a safe haven for Islamic terrorists to set up a base from which to attack the United States again. Granted, that is a very difficult goal to achieve; it requires a government that is not tolerant of the Islamic terrorists being in their country that also has the popular support of the Afghan people. The key to having the Afghan people support the government is to create a middle class that actually has something to live for, which does not currently exist in Afghanistan.
A few months ago I came up with the idea of the very politically incorrect “sweat shops for peace,” the idea being that, with Afghanistan having no natural resources and a large population of unemployed and uneducated workers, it would be an ideal place (after the cities are secured) for industries to set up shop and make cheap manufactured goods, much as has been done in the past in places like Hong Kong, Vietnam, China, and Pakistan. Doing so would give opportunities for businesses to save money on their labor costs, thereby causing the goods to be cheaper in consuming nations, while also increasing the standard of living in Afghanistan and creating a currently nonexistent middle class, which would then have incentive to defend and support a stable, peaceful, and moderate government. The people would have something to live for, so they would be more willing to defend their country and eschew radical Islamists. This could be considered victory in Afghanistan.
President Obama’s strategy is anything but victory. The strategy is all about politics. After committing to sending an additional 30,000 troops (still only 3/4 of what Gen. Stanley McChrystal requested), Obama also announced that all American troops would start to leave in just 18 months. It is impossible to fight a war on a timeline; now, all the Taliban and al Qaeda have to do is sit back and wait until American troops leave to take back their power in the country. With the withdrawal date already set to coincide with Obama’s re-election bid in 2012, he has his campaign talking points for both sides of the aisle already prepared. For the right, he can point to the fact that he provided a surge like they wanted (and, of course, like Bush did in Iraq); it’s not fair to blame him for the fact that it failed since it was their policy. For the left, Obama can point to the fact that he gave them the retreat that they wanted anyway, just a bit later than they would have wanted. This Commander in Chief is playing with troops’ lives for the purpose of scoring political points with both sides and trying to solidify his national security credentials for his 2012 re-election bid. The sad part is, it’s actually working among many on the right. Obama is already receiving praise from the likes of Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich, and Georgia’s own Senator Saxby Chambliss. These same people understood the problems with fighting a war on a timeline when Democrats were demanding one for Iraq, but now they are praising Obama for creating one in Afghanistan.
It would be better to minimize troop losses and surrender in Afghanistan now than it will be to follow the Obama policy of telling the enemy when we plan to surrender and putting troops in harm’s way for the next few years for what is ultimately going to be a defeat for the United States. Obama’s policy guarantees defeat for the United States in the interest of attempting to secure victory in his 2012 re-election. That is the only victory Obama is interested in, and ultimately if the United States loses in Afghanistan because of his policies he may not get that victory either.