A clash is coming on U.S. policy in Afghanistan. President Obama is exploring alternatives to a major troop increase there. One plan, advocated by Vice President Joe Biden, would “scale back American forces and focus more on rooting out Al Qaeda there and in Pakistan.” Greater reliance would be placed on drone airplanes attacking insurgent leaders and less on nation-building.
However, the 66 page classified report by the commanding general on the ground, Stanley McChrystal, assessed the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan “as a potential threat to the safety of American troops. “ He called for more troops and “other resources” that “would be required for victory.” This approach is supported by Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Can Obama resist the recommendations of his military leaders?
It is an embarrassment to the Obama administration that the secret report was leaked to newsman Bob Woodward and printed in the Washington Post. It forces the President’s hand at a time when he is hard pressed to push health-care reform legislation through the Congress, giving the President another controversial issue to manage. It is hard enough to handle a single controversy. One observer called the chain of events and the leaked report, “amateur hour.” Who slipped the secret document to Woodward? In the midst of the battle over health care, Congress must battle over troops again? Republicans are already on board for escalating the war, with more troops and money. The Democrats are divided but most want the administration to develop an exit strategy from Afghanistan.
It will be politically difficult for Obama, the leader of the only superpower on earth, to simply walk away from the war. But we did it in Vietnam, America is more secure and we gained a friendly customer. We have agreed to leave Iraq in 2011 and the political roof hasn’t collapsed. If we leave Afghanistan to the people who live there, how would such a haven increase the danger in the United States? That case has not yet been made. We have learned how to protect ourselves: no attacks have been made on the U.S. since September 11.
The President’s sweeping reassessment has been prompted by deteriorating conditions on the ground, the messy and unsettled outcome of the Afghan elections, the widespread corruption, and the guerilla tactics of the Taliban. Nine months into his presidency and six months after announcing a new strategy, Obama is reconsidering his plan again. Does this indicate uncertainty?
The allies of the U.S. want out. At least half of the Americans polled have lost confidence in the war. There is division in the Obama administration. No strategy seems to work. Is it worth more American lives? Is it really necessary for American security?
Politically, the war is a loser. It is no longer the Bush war; it belongs to Barack Obama – to intensify or to end – halfway measures won’t do.
This post originally appeared on Sunday, September 27, 2009, on Relentless Liberal.