Having received the opinions of all the stakeholders in the debate about what to do in Afghanistan, Mr. Obama dithered for three months and came up with the worst possible course of action. We should take no solace in the preordained historical fact that he will be known as the worst President ever in his only term in office, because in creating that distinction for himself he will do unspeakable damage to our nation, and indeed to our world.
And all because he doesn’t understand victory.
Mr. Obama was presented with two competing options:
- Withdraw from Afghanistan, to appease George Will and his own left flank
- Implement a “surge” strategy, to get the people on our side and win
Part and parcel of a surge strategy is convincing the Afghan people that we will be their ally, and that they have nothing to fear from the Taliban.
What Mr. Obama has chosen to do takes the worst elements of both of his options and combines them in a way that will cause the maximum expense of life and treasure while providing minimum benefit.
By setting a timeline for withdrawal, Mr. Obama tells the Taliban how long they have to bide their time before attacking. And even hinting that we would leave before Afghanistan is a functioning state sends the message to the people of Afghanistan that they will be better off on the side of the Taliban.
Yet he sends tens of thousands of American fighting men and women into harm’s way. They will be fighting shackled with rules of engagement rendering their task almost impossible. Our military is incredibly skillful, but without a method for distinguishing friend from foe and without the complete backing of their Commander-in-Chief, there is little hope for success.
Mr. Obama has said that he doesn’t want to talk about victory.
Victory is often defined as removing the enemy’s ability to project power. But in the context of a guerrilla or terrorist conflict, rather than one between nation-states, that definition falls short. It is not enough to say such an enemy will be “defeated”, as Mr. Obama said tonight, without also ensuring that the enemy doesn’t regenerate.
Victory, in the terrorist context, means to so thoroughly defeat the enemy that his very ideals are rejected by the larger population from which his ranks are drawn.
Two years may be enough time to do that, but not if the enemy knows that all he must do is hide among the people and wait. That is the incurable flaw in Mr. Obama’s plans. He must talk about not writing blank checks and forcing the Afghan government to clean up its act, perhaps not realizing that these statements will be received as signals of tepid support.
But given Mr. Obama’s inexperience and ideology, there is little else we could expect from him.