This time, I’m not touching the Kool-Aid.
Yes, back in 2003, I did chug a glass full of the stuff, and asked for more, when then-Secretary of State Colin Powell told the U.N. Security Council that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and that something had to be done — like a war. How could Powell’s declaration not have been true?
If anyone would have known about Iraq’s destructive arsenal, it would have been the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, with his access to military intelligence. Powell was a distinguished public servant, tempered by Vietnam and drilled in the need for credibility in government service. He would not steer us wrong. So I drank deeply and dreamed of destroying Saddam Hussein’s WMDs. Except the dictator didn’t have any.
Chastened, but still willing to trust a leader’s words, I again drank from a cup of Kool-Aid (but refrained from turning it bottoms-up) following President Obama’s speech at West Point six years ago announcing a troop surge into Afghanistan.
I partook of that drink, as I wrote at the time, because it was inconceivable to me that Obama, a cautious, thoughtful leader who presciently opposed the Iraq war, would, after months of painstaking review, decide on a course that would lead the United States to military, financial and political disaster.
“After 18 months,” declared Obama, “our troops will begin to come home.”
I allowed the cup to pass my lips because I believed the president when he said that, in all of a year and a half, tens of thousands of U.S. troops would be mobilized and sent to Afghanistan, where they would join other forces and, in 18 months: deny al-Qaeda a haven; reverse the Taliban’s momentum; strengthen the capacity of Afghan security forces; and stabilize neighboring Pakistan.
So I swallowed.
Yes, I was hard-pressed to understand why al-Qaeda, a vicious group of extremists, and that brazenly ruthless movement called the Taliban would stick around for 18 months doing battle with U.S. and allied forces, when all they seemingly had to do was hide out and wait until we left.
And I was mystified how we would achieve the goal to bring agriculture to Afghanistan’s poppy fields; get tens of thousands of Afghans into the fight on our side; and convert Afghan ministries, governors and local chieftains into symbols of corruption-free zones by 2011.
But I concluded that maybe one had to be a member of Obama’s war council and privy to inside information to know how it would be done.
So now we are being told “never mind,” “disregard that last transmission,” “oops, there’s been a change in plans.”
On Thursday, the president announced that 9,800 troops will remain in Afghanistan during most of next year, with 5,500 remaining in 2017.
That’s because, despite the president’s declarations six years ago, the Afghan security forces can’t fend for themselves and the Taliban’s momentum has not been reversed. The Taliban reportedly is now spread through more of Afghanistan than it has been since 2001, according to the United Nations. Deny al-Qaeda a haven? Al-Qaeda fighters are still on the ground taking territory and lives.
The ice has melted in my cup of Kool-Aid.
This isn’t an antiwar screed, a cry to get out of Afghanistan or a denunciation of Afghan security forces. At issue are decision-making in the White House and how this administration handles acute military threats. Does it understand the implications of its decisions?
“After 18 months our troops will begin to come home.” On what was that based? Were the administration’s conclusions that the Taliban’s momentum would be reversed and Afghanistan’s forces would be brought up to speed within 18 months based on hard-nosed analysis or wishful thinking? That nagging question also arises with the White House’s handling of Syria and Iraq and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression in the Middle East and Eastern Europe.
President Obama isn’t lacking in supporters of his policies. But the Afghanistan zigzags and his decision-making by increments in the foreign arena raise the question: Can the American people have confidence in this administration’s calls on national security?
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