In Las Vegas yesterday, Mitt Romney had this to say about the announcement by President Obama’s secretary of defense that we’d be pulling all combat troops out of Afghanistan next year:
The President’s mistakes, some of them are calculated based on a philosophy that’s hard to understand, and some you just scratch your head and say how could you be so misguided and so naïve? Today his Secretary of Defense unleashed such a policy. His Secretary of Defense said that on a date certain, the middle of 2013, we’re going to pull out our combat troops from Afghanistan. He announced that. He announced that so the Taliban hears it, the Pakistanis hear it, the Afghan leaders hear it; why in the world do you go to the people that you’re fighting with and tell them the day that you’re pulling out your troops? It makes absolutely no sense; his naïveté is putting in jeopardy the mission of the United States of America and our commitments to freedom. He is wrong, we need new leadership in Washington.
Romney is exactly right on this one. As Max Boot explains:
The Obama administration seems to think it can stop American combat operations a year earlier than expected—in 2013—while also downsizing the Afghan Security Forces and still strike a peace deal with the Taliban. Only in some alternative universe is this a winning strategy. In the world we actually inhabit it is a recipe for a slow-motion—or maybe not so slow—catastrophe.
It is hard to know exactly what the announcement that the U.S. is ending combat operations in 2013 means because the dividing line between “combat” and “advising” can be thin to the point of non-existent. But at the very least it signals some pull back of the American commitment. And before long I suspect we are going to hear that the number of U.S. troops—already insufficient—will be cut back some more so as to allow President Obama to run for reelection claiming to have ended one war and to be on his way to ending another. The Afghan Security Forces will be hard-pressed to pick up the slack, because they will need extensive training and support for years to come. The only way they will have any chance of success is if the U.S. maintains a substantial force in Afghanistan after 2014—say at least 40,000 troops. But that is highly unlikely if Obama stays in office.
Romney’s concerns are also echoed by Fred and Kim Kagan, who have both spent years analyzing and providing counsel on U.S. policy in Afghanistan. They write: “The reality is that there are two hard fighting seasons’ worth of combat in Eastern Afghanistan before we can transition the problem to the Afghans and focus on assisting them. And it will take all of the 68,000 U.S. troops that will remain at the end of this year to do it. The fight is worth it—eliminating the safe havens of groups that would give sanctuary to al Qaeda was what we came to Afghanistan to do in the first place.” They add that Panetta has said no decisions have been made about troop levels in 2013. Hopefully, we’ll have a new commander in chief by then, but the Kagans remind us: “There is no occasion to make any such decisions until the end of this fighting season or early in 2013 itself. When we have made the gains we can and must make, and when we have consolidated them to ensure that our efforts were not wasted and our security is not endangered—only then should we talk about drawing down more troops or changing their mission. To do otherwise is to court disaster.”
But that’s precisely what Obama is doing. Romney is right in his attack on the president’s recklessness in overseeing the war that Obama declared was essential to our own security. But it’s not really a head-scratcher as to why Obama is behaving in such a fashion: He’s gone all in with the left, giving them a withdrawal to cheer for (the consequences be damned) and him with more defense “savings” to immediately pour into domestic spending. Romney should continue to press this point and to make his cogent arguments that in slashing defense, prematurely pulling out troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and being meek on human rights, Obama is choosing decline, that is, choosing to reduce American influence and power in the world.