President Obama has just spoken on AfPak. I closed my eyes and listened closely to his words, coming via the BBC from the other side of the world.
The President’s words were disappointing. He talked about our goal to reach a force level of 134,000 Afghan soldiers and 82,000 police by 2011. This is not even in the neighborhood of being enough. Further, the increase of 21,000 U.S. troops is likely just a bucket of water on the growing bonfire. One can only expect that sometime in 2010, the President will again be forced to announce another increase in U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
If there were not people like Gates and Petraeus up there, my gut would say to pull out. It is only my faith in the military, and what I saw them accomplish against heavy odds in Iraq, that gives me hope.
Others would disagree with me. A well placed and very experienced British officer just emailed me his impressions, to whit:
“An impressive statement of intent – I particularly liked the bits about bearing down on Afghan corruption and corruption in how USAID money is spent. The speech inspires confidence and, as he is not Bush, it could encourage others to come to the party in a more meaningful way.
I don’t mean any offence about Bush as I for one see history judging him more favorably than contemporary commentators it’s just that the Europeans might follow Obama in a way that they never would Bush.”
And so my views clearly are not held by everyone. Most British and American officers – especially American – have been far more positive about Afghanistan than I have been. My confidence in them is great, and before publishing this I called London to talk about this. There is more confidence coming from the British Army than meets the public eye.
As an aside, I’d like to note the thunderous silence from the anti-war left over this – nothing in recent memory has painted them better as the hypocrites they are. That said…
I, too, hope that the British officer is correct and that the mere fact of Obama being President will pull in more support for the Afghan campaign…I hope this because I’m worried that all Obama has done is send enough troops to ensure that we lose slowly. We have learned – to our sorrow in Vietnam, to our glory in Iraq – that you can’t do war by halves – its all the way in, or all the way out.
In late 2006, President Bush was faced with the choice of either surrendering Iraq to the terrorists, or putting such a powerful force into Iraq that the terrorists would be crushed. President Bush decided to double down, and we – and the Iraqi people – have reaped the benefit. While even many of President Bush’s erstwhile allies were calling for half measures such as the absurdly stupid Iraq Study Group program, he decided that in war there really is no substitute for victory. Here in early 2009, President Obama is facing a similar choice and while the announced goal is all one can hope for, the means provided don’t seem to meet the needs of the moment.
What will happen if, a year from now, President Obama is facing a lengthening US casualty list and an ever more brutal enemy? Will he announce, a few short months ahead of the 2010 mid-terms, that he is sending more troops into the war zone…or will he strike some sort of deal with Iran and other terror masters in order to allow a “decent interval” between US withdrawal and terrorist triumph? What may be won relatively easy with 30,000 more troops today might not be retrievable with 130,000 troops my April of 2010 – to send 21,000 today might prove the largest folly of all.