When will Republicans finally call him on is failed strategy?
Republicans have two urgent tasks this week. First is learning how to spell “Reince Priebus.” Second, and far more important, is to begin an intensive debate on Obama’s strategy on Afghanistan.
Out of a misplaced sense of loyalty to their former president, Republicans have bound themselves to President Obama’s counterinsurgency-cum-withdrawal strategy. They’ve done so because Obama’s is an extension of George W. Bush’s nation-building strategy, which we have pursued in Afghanistan since 2001 and in Iraq from 2003.
That strategy has failed. The Iraqi government remains dysfunctional. Moqtada al-Sadr has returned to ensure instability and — with others’ help — eventual dissolution. In Afghanistan the Karzai government cannot — and in many instances refuses to — establish the local governance to replace the Taliban where military gains are made. It’s time for Republicans to put the war back in the center of American political debate and insist that nation-building be abandoned in favor of a strategy that will defeat the real enemy, not spend another moment fighting their proxies.
President Obama’s November 2009 orders for the troop surge into Afghanistan — reprinted in Bob Woodward’s Obama’s Wars — defined our goals in Afghanistan to be: (1) denying it as a safe haven for al Qaeda; and (2) denying the Taliban the ability to overthrow the Afghan government and all before a firm deadline of July 2011 when U.S. troops would begin to withdraw.
It is a plan that puts a smiley face on an American defeat. We will abandon Afghanistan to al-Qaeda and the Taliban and — more importantly — the nations that guarantee their ability to remake it into the terrorist safe haven it was in 2001.
Seven months after Obama’s 2009 orders, Gen. David Petraeus said that Obama’s plan to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in July 2011 was “etched in stone.” But Petraeus seemed to contradict himself, saying that the rate of withdrawal would be dependent on “conditions on the ground.” A week later, Obama fired Gen. Stanley McChrystal from his post as commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan and replaced him with Petraeus.
As one insider told me, Obama surprised Petraeus by asking him to take over for McChrystal, giving him no time to consider it. My source said that Petraeus, there to consult with Obama on McChrystal’s firing, was asked by the president and then literally walked out to Obama’s press event to announce his own appointment.
Obama insisted that the change from McChrystal to Petraeus was one of personnel, not policy. But, as I wrote at the time, appointing Petraeus — because of his sense of duty to the mission and his troops — inevitably made the July 2011 withdrawal plan aspirational: cast in doubt, rather than stone.
The president continued to speak as if the July 2011 date were still absolute. Until it wasn’t. Last year, 2014 became the deadline, according to Vice President Biden’s December declaration on Meet the Press. Biden said then, “We’re going to be totally out of there, come hell or high water, by 2014.”
But is it 2011 or 2014 or 2024? Last week, Defense Secretary Gates announced that 1,400 Marines would be added to the surge so that the military gains could be solidified before the planned withdrawals begin in July. And, visiting Hamid Karzai last week, Biden flip-flopped on the 2014 date, telling Hamid Karzai that we would stay past 2014 if the Afghanis wanted us to. Biden said, “It is not our intention to govern or nation-build.”
Which must be a considerable shock to Petraeus. His counterinsurgency strategy doesn’t impose U.S. government on Afghanis but it is, by definition, nation-building. Its principal elements are expulsion of the “insurgents” (al-Qaeda and the Taliban) and replacing them with a structure that provides security and basic governmental services.
So what is the strategy? What new decisions is Obama considering? Or, as is more likely, is he ignoring the war in favor of more domestic “reform”? Obama is dangerously silent at a time when his White House has reached a level of incoherence unseen since Lyndon Johnson feared Vietnam commander Gen. William Westmoreland’s presidential aspirations more than defeat. Johnson flailed at a strategy that resembles Obama’s in enough ways to make the reminiscence a nightmare.
Congressional Republicans have played along with nation-building for too long. Whatever sense of loyalty to former President Bush remains, it cannot be allowed to stand in the way of a thorough re-evaluation of the war we’re in. There is wisdom, not shame, in admitting that Bush was wrong and blaming Obama for compounding Bush’s mistakes.
As I wrote in the Washington Times on September 12, 2001, the terrorists themselves are not our principal enemy. The nations that sponsor them are. And, as I wrote on this page in March 2006, nation-building is an historic mistake.
Our decision to go to war against the Taliban government in Afghanistan was not based on the fact that it wasn’t a democracy. We went to war because the Taliban gave bin Laden a safe haven from which he mounted the 9-11 attacks, and then refused to turn him over to us when Bush gave them the choice between that and war. We didn’t attack Iraq because Saddam was a dictator. We invaded Iraq because we believed — sincerely and incorrectly — that he was building weapons of mass destruction that would be used against us.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?