Friday, December 04, 2009

Why Obama's ambivalence to the Afghanistan misssion matters

President Obama's speech was being listened to not only by Americans, but by our enemies. And they now know that Obama is so ambivalent to his mission that all they have to do is hunker down and wait until we pull out. And those in the area who have to decide whether or not to support our efforts at dangerous risks to themselves and their families must weigh Obama's unwilling decision against the implacable will of the Taliban and other terrorists in the group. Charles Krauthammer lays this out.
Which made his last-minute assertion of "resolve unwavering" so hollow. It was meant to be stirring. It fell flat. In August, he called Afghanistan "a war of necessity." On Tuesday night, he defined "what's at stake" as "the common security of the world." The world, no less. Yet, we begin leaving in July 2011?

Does he think that such ambivalence is not heard by the Taliban, by Afghan peasants deciding which side to choose, by Pakistani generals hedging their bets, by NATO allies already with one foot out of Afghanistan?
Instead we got a politician's speech.
Obama's surge speech wasn't that of a commander in chief but of a politician, perfectly splitting the difference. Two messages for two audiences. Placate the right -- you get the troops; placate the left -- we are on our way out.

And apart from Obama's personal commitment is the question of his ability as a wartime leader. If he feels compelled to placate his left with an exit date today -- while he is still personally popular, with large majorities in both houses of Congress, and even before the surge begins -- how will he stand up to the left when the going gets tough and the casualties mount, and he really has to choose between support from his party and success on the battlefield?

....And this commander in chief defended his exit date (vs. the straw man alternative of "open-ended" nation-building) thusly: "because the nation that I'm most interested in building is our own."

Remarkable. Go and fight, he tells his cadets -- some of whom may not return alive -- but I may have to cut your mission short because my real priorities are domestic.

Has there ever been a call to arms more dispiriting, a trumpet more uncertain?

5 comments:

Timothy said...

I'll reiterate what I said in a comment to your last post on Afghanistan. Without a real commitment to win, the surge should not be undertaken. Our soldiers' lives are too important to be sacrificed to such a half-hearted effort. Under the circumstances, Republicans should not approve any funds for such a surge and should introduce legislation to bring our troops home. I was in favor of backing General McChrystal's plan, but this isn't it, and not under these circumstances. President Obama is simply not a credible Commander in Chief.

Pat Patterson said...

You have to give credit to Obama for not rolling over to the peace at any price wing of the Democratic Party. And even though many see 30,000 from the US as inadequate it appears that we do have firm commitments from NATO to provide a further 7,000 troops. Now strictly on the basis of total promised troops the President has come pretty close to delivering the numbers that McChrystal asked for months ago.

He has deepened US and NATO involvement in Afghanistan and now will simply have to deliver on that implied promise that leaving on a timetable will not cause Afghanistan to revert back to the status quo ante. He has to win there are become another one term president. Plus he has to make sure that NATO doesn't deliver more troops, especially German, whose ROEs are so restrictive that it seems like its soldiers are required to retrieve all the cartridges after a battle and account for each one's use.

Timothy said...

Pat, I am not willing to give Obama credit. As Krauthammer sets out, he acted like a politician, not a Commander in Chief, trying to achieve a compromise that wouldn't make his previous statements look like a complete lie. That is no way to win a war. When coupled with his sitting on General McChrystal's recommendation for months, his ambivalent speech this week makes clear to the world, and especially our enemies, that we do not have the resolve to see this through. There may be token support from other countries, but nothing that will make a significant difference. We should be unwilling to sacrifice the lives of our brave soldiers so that the president can say he tried.

tfhr said...

Pat Patterson,

I started this comment (typed your name as I was reading the first paragraph) but now see that you've hit the nail on the head with the ROEs of respective NATO forces.

The numbers of actual troops in country are nothing compared to the intent and application of any added combat power, training capacity, civil affairs capability, and the like. I hope they're able to find the right balance because sustaining a larger force in Afghanistan will be much, much more difficult than in Iraq.

One thing I've not heard much about is the long standing complaint about mobility issues related to helicopter shortages. Either this has already been addressed and I missed it or the additional troops will suffer from a mismatch in lift capability made worse by greater demand. We'll see.

ROEs are a huge problem and so is coordination. I have to say that NATO forces are not particularly capable in comparison or well integrated with the US Army or the USMC. The Brits are an exception, to some extent, but it will take some time to bring the others online so that they are more help than hazard. Most will be completely dependent on the United States for assistance on medical, transportation, supply and communications issues. Their own respective national leaders will have to be less restrictive than we've seen in the past with regard to actually fighting. This will be a tremendous challenge for Obama to solve and I wish him all the best.

You mentioned Germany in particular and rightfully so. The once proud and capable Bundeswehr is now a pathetic joke. This effort to bring more NATO troops into the fray would give them an opportunity to reclaim some of the respect they once garnered while staring down the Warsaw Pact. Unfortunately Germany and France have been the least cooperative on the matter of NATO contributions compared to actual capacity. Again, I wish Obama well but he is probably going to have to face up to the likelihood, sooner rather than later, that Europe will not provide the needed assistance in this fight.

I'm not sure that it would have made much of a difference to the Europeans if Obama had allowed the full compliment of troops requested by McChrystal or if he had just shown more of a commitment to victory by not trying to placate his left wing supporters with the pledge to start drawing down the force structure within about a year of the first surge troops' arrival.

What is clear to me is that Obama's decision and subsequent actions will now be under a microscope that will not allow him to shift the blame anymore. Failing in Afghanistan will be his undoing and the sooner he realizes that, the better off our troops on the ground will be. I hope Obama will disregard the complaints of the far left and fight this fight to win.

Pat Patterson said...

There are still more of the latest, civilian version, of the Eurocopter patrolling the Thames Valley then there are in Afghanistan. And the French in particular are still having problems with their supposedly NATO compatible radios. It's a good thing that the US has AWACS in the sky constantly and that usually the nearest American unit to a French patrol listens in but obviously hoping for the best.

While Germany is making a big deal about its newest IFV now deployed it is extremely sensitive to shaped charges as it does not have a V-shaped undercarriage so often even the simplest of patrols or convoys must stop and manually search for IEDs. Next time anyone complains about the masters of war in this country they might look to Europe to see that their equipment is not only backward but often simply dangerous. That is the problem that the promise of NATO troops must solve to be at least capable at fighting at their combat and force strength.