Soon after President Obama got finished downsizing our objectives in Afghanistan in prime-time (just destroy al-Qaeda and we’re done), other terrorist players reminded us that his refined target is too narrow and insufficient to achieve the national security objectives he’s previously set forth.
The Wall Street Journal reports on the aftermath of the speech and the accord for future U.S. support for the Afghan government:
In Wednesday’s early hours, President Barack Obama delivered a simple message during a surprise visit to America’s largest military base in Afghanistan: The U.S. will not allow this country to once again be overrun by Islamic hard-liners.
Two hours later, as Mr. Obama was flying back to the U.S., Taliban insurgents issued a jarring reminder of the challenges America still faces in trying to bring a dignified end to a decade of war in Afghanistan. . . .
While the new partnership cements America’s commitment to help Afghanistan after most international forces leave by 2014, Mr. Obama faces hurdles in ensuring that an end to U.S.-led combat missions next year won’t let a resurgent Taliban reclaim control of the country.
Umm, the first problem in meeting that objective might be that Obama is no longer even willing to identify the Taliban as the enemy. It’s hard to disable an opponent you’ve defined as something less than a critical problem.
To make matters worse, the administration has emboldened Taliban fighters by chasing after them to negotiate something or other. (When we’ve announced we are departing, what’s to talk about and who’s going to enforce it?) Foreign policy expert Michael Rubin (unrelated) writes: “The same Taliban groups with whom the Americans and British now negotiate have, since the beginning of dialogue, attacked hotels in Kabul, the British and American embassies, and Afghan government buildings. There appears to be a direct correlation between the urgency of State Department outreach and the boldness of Taliban attacks.”
Rubin recommends: “If the Taliban seeks to bolster its negotiating position by launching attacks, it is time for American forces to do likewise—not precise attacks to take out a single high value target, but missions to slaughter hundreds of Taliban fighters regardless of their rank and wherever they seek to hide.” But wait .The president ruled that out. In his speech, he declared that our objective was not to “eradicate every vestige of the Taliban” because that would take too long, cost too much and could risk American lives.
In other words, he does not have the will to engage Taliban fighters, so let’s write them out of the equation, negotiate a “deal” and get out. That’s fine, but let’s not confuse this with achieving our objectives, ensuring Afghanistan’s survival or conveying steadfastness to our enemies.
And while Obama would have us believe there are no other terrorist networks or groups to worry about, events again served as an unpleasant reminder. (“While the Taliban claimed responsibility for staging Wednesday’s early-morning attack in Kabul, Mr. Crocker said he didn’t rule out the involvement of the Haqqani Network, an autonomous Taliban ally based in Pakistan that has been linked to most of the high-profile attacks on the Afghan capital.”) The president didn’t have much to say about that, did he?
The simpler and shorter you make the list of foes, the easier it is to declare that the war is at an “end.” But that’s a fiction derived by excluding and ignoring the full range of threats. It’s a definitional sleight of hand that serves Obama’s purposes, but doesn’t really address the national security issues that once upon a time this president recognized were critical.