On matters such as whether to spend $800 billion on “stimulus” projects, $1 trillion on health care “reform,” or billions of dollars to build stadiums in the “city” of Chicago, President Obama is all about the now. When it comes to approving a months-old request from his beleaguered general in Afghanistan to increase troops in an eight-years-and-running war to support the dying soldiers already there, Obama engages in leisurely stargazing .
Never mind that only a wee percentage of funds are seeping out eight months after the stimulus bill was passed, health care legislation wouldn’t start until 2013, and the 2016 Summer Olympics don’t take place for seven years. Those items were all at the top of Obama’s to-do list.
The war in Afghanistan just entered its ninth year. Obama formulated his grand strategy for Afghanistan in March, and replaced his former commander there with General Stanley McChrystal in June. McChrystal, as requested, made his assessment of what was necessary to implement Obama’s counterinsurgency strategy, including adequate troop levels, and has been waiting since August for Obama to give him what he needs.
Now Obama tells us that before troops can be approved, we need to make sure we have a strategy. As George Will recently asked, didn’t Obama formulate his strategy in March? Has it changed since then? If not, then why the delay in sending troops to carry it out?
For one, we are told that discontent is brewing among Congressional Democrats over sending more troops, and that Obama wants to take into account their diverse opinions. Yet discontent is always brewing among Democrats over sending any American troops anywhere, unless the mission is purely humanitarian and serves absolutely no U.S. security interest. People who think it’s always wrong to go to war or escalate a conflict cannot be trusted to give strategic advice on troop levels in any specific conflict.
Even Hillary Clinton is sane enough to realize that if we follow Vice President Joe Biden’s preferred plan of stepping up surgical strikes and predator attacks against Al Qaeda leaders, maintaining current troop levels, and allowing the Taliban to retake large swaths of Afghanistan, Al Qaeda will return to the region before we know it.
Now, as a red herring, senior Democrats are criticizing McChrystal for “violating” the chain of command, simply because after a speech he gave last week he honestly answered a question on strategy by referencing the need for more troops in Afghanistan.
To remind Obama: McChrystal was brought in to replace General David McKiernan due to Obama’s stated intent to implement the new counterinsurgency strategy that General David Petraeus had successfully used in Iraq. McChrystal privately requested 30,000 to 40,000 additional troops in August, a detail that was leaked to the press. Last week, he obliquely reiterated the need for more troops in his factual response to a question. How was he supposed to know that Obama had gone all mushy and was reconsidering his already committed to strategy?
To satisfy critics’ demand that he say nothing precise without clearing it with our commander-in-chief, McChrystal’s response to questions about strategy in Afghanistan would have had to have been, “We’re going to win in Afghanistan. As for details, please ignore everything I’ve said before and the report and troop request I issued in August—all of that may or may not be true and reflect my honest assessment of the situation and the reason I was hired, but I have to speak with Obama to see if his strategy has changed in the last five minutes.” (This would have been an especially interesting standard for McChrystal to live up to, inasmuch as Obama had had exactly one phone conversation with the general since he took command before last week.)
The most infuriating aspect of having to listen to all this dithering over troops is that we just went through this whole process in Iraq several years ago—and the “troop dilemma” was conclusively decided in favor of the surge option. George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld mistakenly ignored the advice of then-General Eric Shinseki to implement massive troop increases in 2003. The war bumbled along for several more years, until General Petraeus sent more troops and began his counterinsurgency operation in 2007, and by 2008 we were hardly hearing a peep from Iraqi insurgents.
In other words, we learned what to do in Afghanistan from what we finally did in Iraq. General Petraeus now supports General McChrystal’s counterinsurgency operation in Afghanistan. Why do we have to learn this bloody lesson the hard way all over again, just because Obama wants to appear “thoughtful”?
One eerie possibility is that Democrats actually believe all that nonsense they were spouting in 2008 about “many factors” being responsible for quelling the violence in Iraq, such as: cooperation from the nice Iraqi people, efforts made by the efficient Iraqi government, Sunni and Shiite compromises, the weather, oh—and also some super-helpful troops that were sent over at the last minute.
Some have suggested that Obama may decide to listen to his inner Zen and take the “middle way”—that is, approve a modest increase, such as 10,000 troops, but not meet McChrystal’s full request. This solution would offer the twin advantages of putting more U.S. soldiers in harm’s way and not giving McChrystal enough troops to succeed in his mission. Sounds like a winner!
As Senator John McCain recently noted, half-measures in war “lead to failure over time and an erosion of American public support,” as in Iraq. Or, as Ike Shelton, chair of the House Armed Services Committee, more succinctly put it, Obama had better not “half-ass it and hope.”