The pres­i­dent fid­dles, Afghanistan burns

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

Last week marked the an­niver­sary of Amer­i­can boots on the ground in Afghanistan. Eight years into the war, the U.S. ef­fort is adrift. Those who ex­pected decisive action on Afghanistan from Pres­i­dent Obama will have to keep wait­ing.

The pres­i­dent told a group of con­gres­sional leaders on Oct. 6 that he will not ap­prove a sig­nif­i­cant re­duc­tion in troops in Afghanistan (what­ever “sig­nif­i­cant” means) and re­mains un­de­cided on whether to au­tho­rize a troop in­crease. So no de­crease, no in­crease but no de­ci­sion ei­ther. Mud­dling through is the or­der of the day.

Pol­i­tics is tak­ing an in­creas­ingly im­por­tant role in strate­gic de­ci­sion-mak­ing on Afghanistan, a di­rect re­sult of Mr. Obama’s dither­ing lead­er­ship. His in­abil­ity to act de­ci­sively cre­ates un­cer­tainty and in­vites end­less de­bate. The longer the de­bates con­tinue, the greater their scope and the more peo­ple get in­volved — such as am­a­teur coun­terin­sur­gency ex­perts Vice Pres­i­dent Joseph R. Bi­den Jr. and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. Democrats on Capi­tol Hill have split into myr­iad camps be­cause Mr. Obama is re­luc­tant to raise a ban­ner around which they can rally, and Repub­li­cans have found it ex­pe­di­ent to back Gen. Stan­ley A. McChrys­tal, which is ironic be­cause his sug­gested plan was for­mu­lated to im­ple­ment the strat­egy the pres­i­dent an­nounced in March.

For his part, Gen. McChrys­tal risks be­com­ing an­other Dou­glas MacArthur if he con­tin­ues to dis­cuss na­tional se­cu­rity pol­icy dis­agree­ments in pub­lic that best cast the con­flict as “a war be­tween West­ern colo­nial­ism and the free­dom-loving na­tion­al­ist and Is­lamist forces,” seek­ing to play to sen­ti­ments in this coun­try that Amer­ica could safely with­draw from the coun­try and still keep the ter­ror­ist threat un­der con­trol us­ing drone air­craft. Po­lit­i­cally, such a re­mote-con­trol war would be ideal; it would be in­ex­pen- This can­not give com­fort to our Afghan al­lies be­cause Bundy con­cluded late in life that “the Doves were right” and Viet­nam es­sen­tially was un­winnable. Bundy’s in­sider ex­pe­ri­ence came at the front end of the war, so there prob­a­bly are few lessons to be learned that are rel­e­vant to Afghanistan any­way.

We rec­om­mend that the pres­i­dent in­stead con­sult Lewis Sor­ley’s book “A Bet­ter War,” about the lat­ter stages of the Viet­nam con­flict when the United States was suc­cess­fully pur­su­ing a strat­egy sim­i­lar to the one Mr. Obama an­nounced in March. The Viet­nam War would have been won had Congress not ended mil­i­tary aid to our South Viet­namese al­lies in 1974 — an­other chord of his­tory that is be­ing dis­cussed in both Kabul and the Tal­iban com­mand cen­ter in Quetta. Add to this the drum­beat of ques­tions con­cern­ing the le­git­i­macy of the re­cent Afghan elec­tion, and the im­pres­sion is grow­ing that grounds are be­ing pre­pared to desert Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai to his fate.

Mr. Obama stated on Oct. 6 that pulling out of Afghanistan is not an op­tion. The longer he takes to make a de­ci­sion about war strat­egy, the more he will be shaped by events rather than shape them him­self.

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