Fight­ing in­sur­gents takes time

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

Coun­terin­sur­gency is a marathon, but Pres­i­dent Obama wants to sprint. The most trou­bling as­pect of Mr. Obama’s strat­egy for Afghanistan is the cramped timeline for his surge. He wants a quick in and out. The 30,000 new troops he is send­ing as re­in­force­ments will be rushed into the­ater in the spring of 2010, and the draw­down will com­mence in July 2011. The mes­sage to Afghans is that this pres­i­dent lacks the will to sus­tain the fight.

Mr. Obama has not had good ex­pe­ri­ences set­ting dead­lines. He made a high­pro­file prom­ise to close the de­ten­tion fa- cil­ity at Guan­tanamo Bay by Jan­uary 2010, which will not hap­pen. Dur­ing the 2008 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, he promised that U.S. forces would be re­moved from Iraq by the end of spring 2010, but as pres­i­dent he pledged, “by Au­gust 31, 2010, our com­bat mis­sion in Iraq will end,” with 30,000-50,000 troops still re­main­ing in the coun­try — about the same force the United States cur­rently has in Afghanistan.

The July 2011 date has a whiff of pol­i­tics about it. It gives the pres­i­dent time to mend fences with his an­ti­war base be­fore the 2012 elec­tion. We re­call the 1995 de­ploy­ment of U.S. peace­keep- ers to Bos­nia to en­force the Day­ton Peace ac­cord, and the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion’s prom­ise that the troops would be home by De­cem­ber 1996. The prom­ise held un­til Mr. Clin­ton was safely re­elected. The Bos­nia mis­sion con­tin­ued un­til 2004.

The exit strat­egy is “con­di­tions­based,” mean­ing there is am­ple room for re­vi­sions should things not work out as hoped. But if the job is not fin­ished in 2011, the pres­i­dent will ei­ther have to stay the course and ex­tend his timeline, thus en­er­giz­ing his an­ti­war crit­ics, or com­mence a with­drawal that could turn into a rout. By set­ting a dead­line, Mr. Obama es­tab­lished con­di­tions for a po­ten­tial no-win sit­u­a­tion, which is both bad pol­i­tics and poor war lead­er­ship.

The Tal­iban al­ready have mocked the with­drawal dead­line as ir­rel­e­vant and po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated. Left­ist ac­tivist film­maker Michael Moore, who is crit­i­cal of the pres­i­dent’s strat­egy and be­lieves the United States has no busi­ness in Afghanistan, de­nounced the prin­ci­ple of set­ting dead­lines in war. “If they’re the en­emy,” he told CNN’s Larry King, “you fight them un­til they’re done — un­til you win and they lose.” We couldn’t have said it bet­ter our­selves.

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