Remember when President Bush was slammed for not listening to his generals (or more accurately, the ones political opponents could agree with)? Remember when Senator Obama parroted the same (Hat tip: Mike’s America):
Obama said that while President Bush has said that he follows the advice of his generals regarding Iraq, when they give the president advice he doesn’t like — cautioning against the War in Iraq, for example — Bush doesn’t listen to them.
“There were generals at the beginning of the conflict that said this is going to require many more troops, will cost us much more … those generals were pushed aside,” Obama said.
Although I do believe that listening to military officials should not automatically lead civilian leaders to carry out their suggestions, I worry whether or not President Obama has the right instincts, the right mindset, the right advisers to make the best possible strategic decision:
White House officials are resisting McChrystal’s call for urgency, which he underscored Thursday during a speech in London, and questioning important elements of his assessment, which calls for a vast expansion of an increasingly unpopular war. One senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the meeting, said, “A lot of assumptions — and I don’t want to say myths, but a lot of assumptions — were exposed to the light of day.”
Among them, according to three senior administration officials who attended the meeting, is McChrystal’s contention that the Taliban and al-Qaeda share the same strategic interests and that the return to power of the Taliban would automatically mean a new sanctuary for al-Qaeda.
Leading up to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Taliban government provided much of al-Qaeda’s leadership with a safe haven before being toppled by U.S. forces later that year. Since then, some White House officials say, al-Qaeda has not regained its foothold even as the Taliban insurgency has strengthened.
The deliberations over McChrystal’s assessment are expected to last several weeks, and officials who participated in Wednesday’s meeting say it is too early to discern what direction Obama intends to take.
Although participants described the discussions as fluid, divisions are becoming clearer between those in the administration who want to broaden the U.S. effort, including sending in additional combat forces, and those who want to adopt a narrower anti-terrorism effort focused primarily on al-Qaeda.
I fear the possibility that we may be returning back to the pre-9/11 days of treating the global jihad movement as merely a law enforcement issue. I feel as though President Obama has no interest in being a “war president”, and sees it as a distraction from carrying out his domestic agenda.
Asked whether a more limited counterterrorism effort would succeed in Afghanistan, he said, “The short answer is: no. You have to navigate from where you are, not where you wish to be. A strategy that does not leave Afghanistan in a stable position is probably a short-sighted strategy.”
In the days leading up to the deliberations this week, senior White House officials emphasized what they say have been the administration’s achievements against al-Qaeda, underscoring that defeating the terrorist organization, rather than rebuilding Afghanistan, has always been Obama’s stated goal.
Nation-building is nothing knew to our military’s history and has often been par for the course after any major conflict. In the case of Iraq and Afghanistan, it is vital to our interest and our security that we leave behind a stable government that is not allied to our enemies; that does not become a safe-haven for the al-Qaeda network. The last time we left, after the Soviet war in Afghanistan, a vacuum was left which the Taliban eagerly filled.
The WaPo article has administration officials noting improvements within Pakistan as being taken into account for how we will proceed from hereon out.
McChrystal said that “we must show resolve” and warned that “uncertainty disheartens our allies and emboldens our foes.”
And even though President Obama is right in conducting deliberations on a new way forward, the perception is, he is wavering from his “war of necessity” rhetoric of the past, and lacks resolve and leadership to give confidence to our allies and demoralize our enemies:
In an interview at the Journal’s offices this week in New York, Pakistan Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi minced no words about the impact of a U.S. withdrawal before the Taliban is defeated. “This will be disastrous,” he said. “You will lose credibility. . . . Who is going to trust you again?” As for Washington’s latest public bout of ambivalence about the war, he added that “the fact that this is being debated—whether to stay or not stay—what sort of signal is that sending?”
Mr. Qureshi also sounded incredulous that the U.S. might walk away from a struggle in which it has already invested so much: “If you go in, why are you going out without getting the job done? Why did you send so many billion of dollars and lose so many lives? And why did we ally with you?” All fair questions, and all so far unanswered by the Obama Administration.
As for the consequences to Pakistan of an American withdrawal, the foreign minister noted that “we will be the immediate effectees of your policy.” Among the effects he predicts are “more misery,” “more suicide bombings,” and a dramatic loss of confidence in the economy, presumably as investors fear that an emboldened Taliban, no longer pressed by coalition forces in Afghanistan, would soon turn its sights again on Islamabad.
Mr. Qureshi’s arguments carry all the more weight now that Pakistan’s army is waging an often bloody struggle to clear areas previously held by the Taliban and their allies. Pakistan has also furnished much of the crucial intelligence needed to kill top Taliban and al Qaeda leaders in U.S. drone strikes. But that kind of cooperation will be harder to come by if the U.S. withdraws from Afghanistan and Islamabad feels obliged to protect itself in the near term by striking deals with various jihadist groups, as it has in the past.
America still has a reputation for being a paper tiger that makes us less safe, if we give the perception validity by appearing to abandon Afghanistan. And as Dan Twining notes, Pakistan is the strategic prize we endanger:
A recent trip to Islamabad and Lahore revealed to me that most Pakistani elites — including the small minority that could credibly be described as sympathetic to Western goals in Afghanistan — already believe that the game is up: the will of the transatlantic allies is broken, Obama doesn’t have the courage or vision to see America’s mission in Afghanistan through to victory, and the U.S. is well along the road to walking away from Afghanistan as it did after 1989. This widespread Pakistani belief has encouraged behavior deeply inimical to Washington’s regional aims, with the effect that the American debate over whether Afghanistan is worth it is inspiring Pakistani actions that will make success all the harder to achieve.
After all, why shouldn’t the Pakistani security services continue to invest in their friendly relations with the Taliban if Mullah Omar and company soon will take power in Afghanistan’s Pashtun heartland? Why should the Pakistani military take on the militant groups that regularly launch cross-border attacks into Afghanistan when the NATO targets of those attacks will soon slink away in defeat? Why should the Pakistani government get serious about wrapping up the Quetta Shura when the Afghan Taliban appears to be ascendant in the face of Western weakness? Why should Pakistan’s intelligence service break its ties to Lashkar-e-Taiba, one of the world’s most potent terrorist groups, when it forms such a useful instrument with which to bleed U.S. ally India? And why should Pakistani civilian and military leaders overtly cooperate with the United States when it appears such a weak and unreliable ally of the Afghan people — incapable, despite its singular wealth and resources, of defeating a 25,000-man insurgency in one of the poorest countries on Earth?
Some believe President Obama gives a great speech. He could have spent his political capital of charm and charismatic rhetoric to good use by rallying the world and our NATO allies around why it is vital for Afghanistan to succeed. By making the case that a safer and stable Afghanistan is in the best interest of every nation. Instead, we are finding ourselves with fair-weathered allies who are uninspired and unmotivated to commit more of their own resources and will to succeed than we are willing to put out. They need leadership.
Instead of it, we are getting a president who seems to regard Afghanistan as a distraction from his domestic agenda. But Afghanistan is now his war, and can make or break his presidency every bit as much as the domestic front.
Signs are growing that Obama will seek to change the war goals, to redefine what is success and divert the discussion away from the more-troops measure. It’s not defeat in Afghanistan; it’s victory of a different kind. The president used a similar strategic argument recently when abandoning the Bush administration’s missile defense shield in Europe: it’s not less defense, it’s defense done smarter and cheaper.
Trying to shift the goal posts will not fool America’s enemies who will, no doubt, be able to claim a victory over the paper tiger super power. Capturing or killing Osama bin Laden may be a feather in the cap, but is not the prize that will signal an end to the war. It will not send his merry band of takfiri terrorists home packing, to forever give up their martyrdom calling. Nor will narrowly defining the enemy as a specific terror group (al Qaeda) make America safer.
A former fetus, the “wordsmith from nantucket” was born in Phoenix, Arizona in 1968. Adopted at birth, wordsmith grew up a military brat. He achieved his B.A. in English from the University of California, Los Angeles (graduating in the top 97% of his class), where he also competed rings for the UCLA mens gymnastics team. The events of 9/11 woke him from his political slumber and malaise. Currently a personal trainer and gymnastics coach.
The wordsmith has never been to Nantucket.