There’s a lot of tooth-gnashing going on today about President Obama’s decision that we’ll have troops in Afghanistan for a few more years both by those who think we should have withdrawn from Afghanistan already and those who want to use substantially more force there than we already have. Are there any bets on which will come first? The end of President Obama’s second term or our withdrawing from Afghanistan?
The editors of the Washington Post are pleased with the president’s decision:
PRESIDENT OBAMA on Tuesday announced a much-needed adjustment in his plans for drawing down U.S. forces in Afghanistan, telling visiting President Ashraf Ghani that a scheduled halving of the 9,800 currently deployed troops by the end of this year would be set aside, and the force maintained into next year. This was a sensible response by Mr. Obama to a range of developments, including Mr. Ghani’s impressive efforts to improve relations with Washington. But the adjustment still falls short of what will be needed to give the new Afghan government a reasonable chance of success.
The president’s decision will allow for U.S. forces to remain at bases in eastern and southern Afghanistan that are critical for gathering intelligence and launching counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda. It will also enable air and other logistical support to Afghan troops as they battle what is expected to be a fierce Taliban offensive this spring and summer.
Perhaps most important, Mr. Obama’s decision, accompanied by a commitment to fund Afghan military and police forces at their present levels through 2017, sends a message to the Taliban, which still hopes to overwhelm the Afghan army as U.S. support declines. The more the United States remains committed to continuing military aid to Mr. Ghani’s government, the more likely it is that Taliban leaders will finally respond to his persistent efforts to engage them in peace talks.
As the late Sam Goldwyn is alleged to have said, if you want to send a message, call Western Union.
I wonder when President Obama’s supporters will be willing to stop thinking of the president’s policies as pragmatic? If the president’s decision to increase our forces in Afghanistan was a pragmatic one, it was also wrong. The situation in Afghanistan is little changed from what it was when he took office other than four times as many Americans having been killed there as when he took office. As I said at the time, that was a foregone conclusion when he made his decision. The number of casualties is mostly based on operational tempo. In my view the president’s decision to put more troops in Afghanistan was based on domestic politics, his decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan was based on domestic politics, and his plan to leave more troops in Afghanstan is also based on domestic politics.
One of the things about having put your views into writing over a period of eleven years is that there’s a record of what you think. I hold the seemingly contradictory views that we should never have invaded Afghanistan but having done so we should commit to retaining a small force, 10-20,000, for the foreseeable future. There are several reasons for that. First, such a force could prevent Al Qaeda from re-establishing itself there. Second, we owe a debt of honor to the Afghan people. Third, Afghanistan is incapable of defending itself without outside help and the idea that we’ll continue to provide such help in the absence of a U. S. troop commitment is a fiction.
Also, just about anybody who actually knows anything about Afghanistan has said much the same thing. I’ve documented that a-plenty over the years.