Reaction to the president’s speech was swift and all too predictable. Before the president had finished speaking, the Huntsman camp was out cheering the retreat. You see it costs so darn much (“With America mired in three expensive conflicts, we have a generational opportunity to reset our position in the world in a way that makes sense for our security as well as our budget.”) He then put out some gibberish suggesting he has spent zero time consulting with military officials. (“The war in Afghanistan is an asymmetrical war, and our approach ought to adjust accordingly. Our troops have done everything we’ve asked them to. They’ve routed the Taliban, dismantled Al Qaeda, and facilitated democratic elections.”) If that were not embarrassing enough, he concluded: “The War on Terror is being fought against a global enemy, and it is critical that we have the resources to fight them wherever they’re found.” Except Afghanistan, I suppose.
In contrast was the bold statement of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), which read in part:
“This is a part of the world where leaders always hedge their bets. Even the slightest impression that the United States is looking to get out is devastating. It is one of the reasons why Pakistan continues to undermine our efforts to target Al Qaeda. It also discourages tribal leaders in Afghanistan from cooperating with us to defeat the Taliban, and it encourages the Taliban to keep on fighting.
“Afghanistan is not just about Afghanistan. It is about the bigger fight against Al Qaeda and radical Islamic terrorism.
“After a decade of fighting, the American people are weary of war. Facing massive unemployment and a growing national debt, they are weary of the effort’s cost. So am I. But the answer to a bad situation is not to make it worse. And I have always believed that a troop withdrawal plan based not on progress towards our ultimate goal, but rather on a desire to hit certain numbers, would be a tragic mistake.
“Yes, American troops need to leave Afghanistan, but they should do so pursuant to a plan that accomplishes our vital goal. I hope that in the days to come, the President will more clearly articulate how his troop withdrawal plan does that.”
Likewise from House Republican Policy Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) came a blast: “The brave men and women of our military continue to risk their lives to ensure that Afghanistan does not once again become a safe haven for terrorists who seek to kill Americans and our allies. . . . President Obama must lead. Leadership in this instance means making decisions based on conditions on the ground, listening to our military commanders and not changing strategy for political purposes. If the president is unwilling or unable to lead with resolve and commitment, if he continues to telegraph our strategy and tactical decisions to the enemy, then he should admit to the country that his administration will not support the fight that is necessary, and bring our brave men and women home now.” Well, yikes, that seems counterproductive. There is an election in 2012, after all.
Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) had this statement:
“I am concerned that the President has not followed the recommendations of General Petraeus on the timing of our withdrawal from Afghanistan. The General was successful in Iraq by maintaining American momentum while the Iraqi army grew to the size needed to maintain long-term security. To repeat his victory formula in Afghanistan, we would need to maintain military momentum against Al Qaeda and the Taliban until the Afghan army reaches critical mass of 400,000 troops— estimated to be achievable by 2014. We withdrew our support and ignored Afghanistan in the 1990s and paid a high price in 2001. We should learn from that mistake and back the Petraeus strategy.”
And what does the general think of this? It is noteworthy that not once in his speech did Obama say he had taken the advice of his military commanders or that the military assured him that the drawdown would not compromise our goals. Will the general remain mum and shuffle off to the CIA? Surely, another government post can’t be worth sacrificing a career of principled leadership and candor.
Cliff May of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies summed up the reaction of conservatives who have gone out on a limb for two years defending the president. “It is a fantasy to believe wars can be ‘wound down’ or ‘ended responsibly.’ Throughout history, wars have been won or lost.” He added, “History is not over. The scary thing is that our enemies know that — while President Obama and too other many Western leaders do not.”
We will see in the days ahead how others along the political spectrum react. It is not enough, I would suggest, to say the president’s approach is unwise. When the commander in chief proclaims that “These long wars will come to a responsible end,” conservatives should react with indignation: Wars end with victory; nothing else is “responsible.” The president says, “Over the last decade, we have spent a trillion dollars on war, at a time of rising debt and hard economic times. Now, we must invest in America’s greatest resource — our people. We must unleash innovation that creates new jobs and industry, while living within our means. We must rebuild our infrastructure and find new and clean sources of energy.” To that, responsible conservatives should respond, “Bunk! It’s a fraction of what we’ve spent on excessive and unwise domestic spending, and all Obama wants to do is more of the same.” C’mon, Republicans, a little anger is warranted when a president delivers a speech this intellectually dishonest and strategically dangerous.
UPDATE (10:15 p.m.): Tim Pawlenty appearing on the Bill O’Reilly show had perhaps the strongest response to the president’s speech. He asserted, “Bill, I thought his speech tonight was deeply concerning. Look how he phrased the outcome of this war. He said we need to end the war ‘responsibly.’ When America goes to war, America needs to win. We need to close out the war successfully. And what that means now is not nation building. What it means is to follow General Petraeus’ advice and to get those security forces built up to the point where they can pick up the slack as we draw down.” Precisely so. Watch the whole thing.