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Letter to the Editor

President Obama’s Double-minded Policy on Afghanistan

web posted December 9, 2009
GUEST OPINION – President Obama has spent three months making a decision that is indecisive. In the same breath he said, “…that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home.” This is double-minded, an unstable policy that will lead to instability at home and abroad.

This is not President Obama’s first policy on Afghanistan or even his first thorough review. In a speech on March 27, 2009, he stated, “Today, I am announcing a comprehensive, new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. This marks the conclusion of a careful policy review that I ordered as soon as I took office. My Administration has heard from our military commanders and diplomats. We have consulted with the Afghan and Pakistani governments; with our partners and NATO allies; and with other donors and international organizations. And we have also worked closely with members of Congress here at home.”

The outcome of that review was the following goal: “To disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future.” He declared a simple message, “We will defeat you.”

Several months later, on June 26, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates directed General Stanley McChrystal to provide a multidisciplinary assessment of the situation in Afghanistan. McChrystal’s assessment, delivered on August 30, noted that “many indicators suggest the overall situation is deteriorating.”  He requested an additional 40,000 troops to accomplish President Obama’s goal.

At that point, President Obama began a second review. Obviously, things were not going well in Afghanistan and he was cautious of committing more troops. At the end of the day, however, President Obama agreed with General McChrystal that the status quo was neither sustainable nor acceptable.

This conclusion dictated that there were really only two basic options available, a build up or a withdrawal. A build up to achieve the initial strategy of disrupting, dismantling, and defeating al Qaeda and its extremist allies. Or a withdrawal of forces, based on the belief that the initial policy was wrong or that things had changed such that withdrawal was in the best interests of the U.S.

In his speech President Obama chose to make the case for a build up. It was truly a moment in which he could have changed course and made an argument for withdrawal if he chose to. Some in Congress would have supported that decision, and in fact, many war weary Americans would have also.

Instead, President Obama reiterated the findings of his initial review, reported in March. He stated that the war was in our vital national interest and that withdrawal would “create an unacceptable risk of additional attacks on our homeland and our allies.”

President Obama said the threat is real and the goal must be accomplished, yet he immediately undercut his own arguments in two crucial ways. First, he has committed 30,000 troops, not the 40,000 that General McChrystal asked for. Does the President know better than the general how many troops are necessary in a war that must be won?

Second, he has announced to the world the specific month the withdrawal of troops will begin. What an incredible gift to our enemies, to aid them in their strategy and propaganda. What a destabilizing influence on the morale of our troops and country, to be counting down the days to withdrawal, instead of focusing on victory!

In his summary General McChrystal noted the importance of our credibility to the Afghans. He said, “A perception that our resolve is uncertain makes Afghans reluctant to align with us against the insurgents.”  He also stated, “We must …prioritize resources to those areas where the population is threatened, gain the initiative from the insurgency, and signal unwavering commitment to see it through to success.”

President Obama has chosen a course of action but he has failed to signal unwavering commitment to see it through. This is a serious failure of leadership.

The President cannot have it both ways. He cannot partially build up and announce withdrawal at the same time, and maintain credibility with Afghan and NATO allies. He has given himself a little wiggle room by saying that the withdrawal will take “into account conditions on the ground.” But everyone knows the clock is running towards the July 2011 date.

President Obama inherited a complicated war that put him in a difficult position. His three month delay, follow by a double-minded decision, have now put our country and soldiers in an even more difficult position.

Richard Cash

Editor's note: Mr. Cash is a Republican candidate for US Congress in the Third  District.

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