by J. F. Kelly, Jr. | Coronado

The long-awaited decision from President Barack Obama on Afghanistan has finally been handed down. To the surprise of no one, it reflects a compromise; not the full 40,000 additional troops that Gen. Stanley Mc Crystal had requested, but a still substantial 30,000. The compromise included, unfortunately, a timetable for withdrawal which will serve as a useful planning benchmark for al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Mr. Obama hoped to mollify his dovish liberal base by showing that he could stand up to the generals by not giving them everything they wanted and by warning Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai that America’s commitment was not open-ended. He also just couldn’t resist pandering to the Bush-bashers among his supporters by blaming the last administration’s focus on Iraq for the mess he inherited in Afghanistan.

At the same time, he hoped to satisfy supporters of the war in Afghanistan by agreeing to three-fourths of the troop request.

The only surprise was why it took so long to arrive at a perfectly predictable compromise decision. The president tried to rationalize the delay by explaining that such a grave decision required much contemplation and consultation and that he did not arrive at it lightly. Also, he pointed out, since no additional troop deployments were planned before 2010, nothing was delayed by a decision process that extended over three months. Perhaps not, but the time it took spoke volumes to our allies and enemies about a wavering U.S. commitment.

“Our security is at stake,” intoned Mr. Obama. The road ahead will be difficult, he warned. Unfortunately, it might be a rather short road, leading to nowhere. If he truly believes that our security is at stake, how can he possibly reconcile setting an 18-month deadline for starting to withdraw troops? Is anyone really confident that we can, in two years or so, turn things around in that turbulent country and exit gracefully, leaving the Afghans to fend for themselves? And if our security is really at stake what happens then?

When Mr. Obama consulted with his military leaders during those ninety days of contemplation, surely they told him that the war on terrorism was a long range proposition, not amenable to short-term solutions or timetables for troop withdrawal. Success, at least as measured by keeping America safe from another major attack, will be achieved only by total commitment and a determination to succeed, qualities displayed in ample quantities every day by our military but sadly lacking in our political leadership. One doesn’t display commitment and determination by saying in effect, “if this doesn’t work in eighteen months, we’re going to start packing and leave.” What about our security being at stake or was that just more rhetoric from the speechmaker-in-chief?

Where will the 30,000 additional troops come from? Apparently not from an increase in Army and Marine Corps end strength, but from our already overcommitted and undermanned forces who face the continued prospects of repeated overseas deployments and short turnarounds. And, let’s remember, Afghanistan is not the only country that can offer sanctuaries to anti-American terrorists. If we have to stabilize all of them, we are in for a long, tough slog that won’t end in Afghanistan in two years. Then there is the imminent prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran which laughs openly at Mr. Obama’s deadlines and warnings.

This president has famously declared Afghanistan a “war of necessity” and that failure there is not an option. Well then, he needs to understand that commitment to success is not compatible with timetables for withdrawal. We cannot commit troops to battle and tell them that failure is not an option if we have already established a schedule for retreat. This is no way to fight a war. It is unfair to the troops. We cannot put them in harm’s way and ask them to put their lives on the line if we are not committed to win regardless of what it takes. If this is not the case, then by all means, bring the ground troops home and prime the Navy and the Air Force for a stand-off war. We won’t win any hearts and minds with that approach, of course, but it’s better than asking soldiers to die for a cause their civilian bosses aren’t fully committed to. CRO

copyright 2009 J.F. Kelly, Jr

J.F. Kelly, Jr. is a retired Navy Captain and bank executive who writes on current events and military subjects. He is a resident of Coronado, California.

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