President Obama gave a speech tonight that was aimed at re-election -- not victory in Afghanistan. In doing so, he made clear that he doesn’t much care whether we accomplish our mission (making certain Afghanistan is not a safe haven for terrorists); his mission is ending a war so we can spend more money domestically. “It is time for nation building here at home,” he announced. Hearing that line, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) must have been smiling broadly.
The number of troops to be withdrawn, 10,000 by year’s end, is not in and of itself disastrous. But what undermines our effort is Obama’s insistence that, thereafter, according to a strict timetable, we will steadily reduce forces and be out entirely by 2014. But what if conditions on the ground change? What if it took until 2015? Forget about it. His key date is 2012, when he plans to have brought out the full 33,000 troops that manned the surge. Oh, and there’s an election that year.
Perhaps the most disingenuous portion of the speech was his use of the assassination of Osama bin Laden to make his case. Yes, it was a remarkable accomplishment, but no military commander believes that it has much impact on Afghanistan. And, of course, quite apart from al-Qaeda, there are the array of terrorist groups continue to threaten the Afghans and ultimately will have free rein once we depart.
Obama’s recounting of the past 10 years in the war against Islamic terror (not that he calls it that) is all negative -- losses, casualties, domestic programs we have foregone. That should not be minimized. But should we risk all that we have gained for a re-election campaign? He choose not to point out the accomplishments of the decade: We have eliminated Saddam Hussein, liberated tens of millions of Muslims, made huge progress in Afghanistan. Oh, no, nevermind. The prospect that Afghanistan will come undone as Obama scrambles to keep his “promise” to bring home troops is not one that keeps him up nights, it would seem.
Finally, there was the ominous preview of a “political settlement” with the Taliban. How does that go now that we announced we are bugging out, regardless of the situation on the ground, in 2014? Presumably we will discuss just how quickly the terrorists will recapture lost territory.
A confidante of Tom Pawlenty told me succinctly: “It was a speech designed to cater to and encourage rising isolationism in this country. The references to nation building in this country clearly indicate that. The president is playing with fire here.”
Mitt Romney’s campaign released this statement: “We all want our troops to come home as soon as possible, but we shouldn’t adhere to an arbitrary timetable on the withdrawal of our troops from Afghanistan. This decision should not be based on politics or economics. America’s brave men and women in uniform have fought to achieve significant progress in Afghanistan, some having paid the ultimate price. I look forward to hearing the testimony of our military commanders in the days ahead.” A little outrage and a straight-forward condemnation of the speech would have been more appropriate.
We are about to see who is serious about victory -- yes, victory is the aim, not setting the speed record for retreat -- and who is not. The president, as Bob Woodward put it, has been a reluctant commander in chief. Tonight he proved to be an irresponsible one.