A Strategy Certain to Fail

December 2nd, 2009

By Tom Carter

Obama West PointPresident Obama announced his strategy for the war in Afghanistan in a speech at West Point last night.

He predictably chose a middle path, a domestic political decision designed to satisfy conservatives that the war isn’t being abandoned and to satisfy liberals that the commitment is neither large nor unlimited.  He sought to encourage NATO allies to continue supporting the effort with troops on the ground by assuring them that it would be over soon.  And he sought to encourage Afghans and Pakistanis by assuring them that we weren’t going to abandon them, at least not for a while, and that we have no desire to permanently occupy their lands.

The President sought to achieve these goals by sending 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan within the next six months or so, with hopes of getting maybe 10,000 more from allies.  However, he plans to start withdrawing troops 18 months from now — about a year after our planned full strength has been reached.

This is folly — it will cost more American lives and much more money to achieve what we would have now if we sent no more troops and started pulling out immediately.  We seem to have ignored the fact that the enemy has options, too.  The fragmented elements of the Taliban and associated groups like al-Qaeda now know that all they have to do is hold out for another year or two, and they will have won.  Between now and then, they’ll attack and kill Americans, then hide in the vast, rugged terrain until things cool down and attack again.  The Afghans outlasted a larger, capable Soviet force for much longer, and they’ll do it again.

The central government of Afghanistan is never going to be free of significant corruption, and the primitive tribal society is never going to be unified under a central government.  The parts of Pakistan that are similarly ungovernable also aren’t going to be unified under an effective central government.  And one or more Pakistani nuclear weapons will eventually fall into terrorist hands, if that hasn’t already happened.

The President also relies on a civilian strategy — diplomacy and development assistance.  However, that’s just more empty hope.  The State Department doesn’t have the people or the skills to carry it off, just as the task exceeds USAID’s capabilities.  The UN, corrupt and inefficient, will produce even less.

Perhaps the President felt that the realities and the constraints he faced left him with few other options.  Maybe he was right.  But contrary to his hopes, liberals are going to oppose him because he’s sending more troops, and conservatives are going to oppose him because he set a definite time limit on the war.  It will eventually be clear that this strategy was a failure from the moment it was announced before an audience of young cadets, some of whom will pay the ultimate price for that failure.

Relevant excerpts of the President’s speech follow: 

There has never been an option before me that called for troop deployments before 2010, so there has been no delay or denial of resources necessary for the conduct of the war during this review period. Instead, the review has allowed me to ask the hard questions, and to explore all the different options, along with my national security team, our military and civilian leadership in Afghanistan, and our key partners. And given the stakes involved, I owed the American people — and our troops — no less. This review is now complete. And as Commander-in-Chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home. These are the resources that we need to seize the initiative, while building the Afghan capacity that can allow for a responsible transition of our forces out of Afghanistan. …

If I did not think that the security of the United States and the safety of the American people were at stake in Afghanistan, I would gladly order every single one of our troops home tomorrow. …

…we will pursue the following objectives within Afghanistan. We must deny al Qaeda a safe haven. We must reverse the Taliban’s momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government. And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan’s security forces and government so that they can take lead responsibility for Afghanistan’s future.

We will meet these objectives in three ways. First, we will pursue a military strategy that will break the Taliban’s momentum and increase Afghanistan’s capacity over the next 18 months. …

Second, we will work with our partners, the United Nations, and the Afghan people to pursue a more effective civilian strategy, so that the government can take advantage of improved security. …

Third, we will act with the full recognition that our success in Afghanistan is inextricably linked to our partnership with Pakistan. …

These are the three core elements of our strategy: a military effort to create the conditions for a transition; a civilian surge that reinforces positive action; and an effective partnership with Pakistan. …

…the absence of a time frame for transition would deny us any sense of urgency in working with the Afghan government. It must be clear that Afghans will have to take responsibility for their security, and that America has no interest in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan. …

All told, by the time I took office the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan approached a trillion dollars. Going forward, I am committed to addressing these costs openly and honestly. Our new approach in Afghanistan is likely to cost us roughly $30 billion for the military this year, and I’ll work closely with Congress to address these costs as we work to bring down our deficit.

But as we end the war in Iraq and transition to Afghan responsibility, we must rebuild our strength here at home. Our prosperity provides a foundation for our power. It pays for our military. It underwrites our diplomacy. It taps the potential of our people, and allows investment in new industry. And it will allow us to compete in this century as successfully as we did in the last. That’s why our troop commitment in Afghanistan cannot be open-ended — because the nation that I’m most interested in building is our own.


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4 Responses to “A Strategy Certain to Fail”



  1. Clarissa |

    I completely agree. These middle-of-the-road strategies are beyond useless. This president is so dedicated to his delusion that he will somehow be able to please everyone that he completely forgets about the need to be at least somewhat reasonable. This new plan is beyond useless. It will, indeed, cost more lives, and lead to no positive results for any one.

    I have kids among my students who are planning to join the military or have done so already. It’s horrifying that their noble decision to serve their country is used by politicians with no thought of the good of these kids and the country at large. For how much longer do we have to witness wars whose only purpose is to save some politician’s face or to serve some murky agenda?


  2. Lisa |

    Tom,
    I agree. I listened to the speech. The prevailing concern I had was that President Obama did not seem convinced himself of what he was telling the American people. I think the speech was also too long covering a variety of issues with the intent to appease everyone listening.


  3. Cristla |

    Tom – I agree with you that Obama is trying to please everyone that will listen. I firmly believe that also by covering so many issues that it will have our heads spinning so we can’t keep up. He has a plan with way too many holes and no way to accomplish what he has set out to do. Clarissa i have students that have been totally convinced that Obama is a wonderful man and leader that will bring our country greatness. These children are not in high school yet and it saddens me that he can touch these young minds the way he has.


  4. cube |

    I must admit that I didn’t listen to the speech because I just can’t bring myself to listening to Obama prattle on about anything, much less war, especially in a room filled with West Point cadets. It pains me to think that those fine young men and women have someone as unqualified to lead as this commander-in-chief. It feels like I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole.


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