In deciding to pull all of the 30,000 troops from the surge out of Afghanistan, six weeks before Election Day 2012, but only 10,000 by year's end, President Obama has satisfied neither the generals nor the doves.
He has, however, well served his political interests.
A larger drawdown would have risked the gains made in Kandahar and Helmand and invited a revolt of the generals, some of whom might resign and denounce Obama for denying them the forces to prevail.
Sen. John McCain, citing some generals, is already saying that, with fewer troops and more missions per unit, U.S. casualties will rise.
A smaller drawdown would have enraged the left, whose support is indispensable to Obama's winning a second term.
So, our president did what comes naturally: cut the baby in half.
Strategically, removal of 30,000 troops in 15 months means that Obama has given up all hope of victory over the Taliban. Gen. MacArthur's dictum—"In war, there is no substitute for victory"—is inoperative in yet another American war.
Obama's strategic goal now is the avoidance of defeat, until the election of 2012 is behind him. And by retaining 70,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan during the fighting season and political season of 2012, he has an insurance policy against a Taliban Tet-style offensive or major U.S. military reversal as voters begin to fill out absentee ballots.
In the post-speech analysis, there was much chatter about a "political solution"—a peace conference including Pakistan, India, Russia, China and Iran that would bring the moderate Taliban and Karzai government together to iron out their differences.
This is self-delusion, born of hope not rational analysis.
Have we not been here before? With Mao's Communists and Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists being pushed toward a coalition by Gen. George Marshall in the late 1940s. With the Viet Cong and North and South Vietnamese making peace in Southeast Asia in 1973.
Like the old communists, the Taliban are all-or-nothing people.
They have a vision, an agenda grounded in religious faith about how a society should be structured, about how men and women should live. They fought their way to absolute power in the 1990s. And they have shown themselves more willing to die for their beliefs and leaders than the Afghan National Army,
This is not to denigrate the brave Afghan soldiers who have bled and died. But the Taliban have not needed U.S. training, U.S. arms, U.S. air and fire support or U.S. paychecks to go into battle. All the suicide bombers who give up their lives are—Taliban.
They recruit themselves. And for 10 years the Taliban have battled U.S. soldiers and Marines, backed up by NATO troops, to what Gen. Stanley McChrystal called "a draw."
And if Afghanistan has become a stalemated war between the Americans and Taliban after a decade in which 1,600 Americans have given their lives and 12,000 have been wounded, how well will the Karzai regime and ANA make out when the Americans, the best soldiers in the world, depart, and they face the Taliban alone?
"This war does not lend itself to a military solution" is the cliche of the hour. And, surely, if the United States cannot achieve victory over the Taliban with 100,000 troops, we are unlikely to achieve it with 70,000, or however many may remain after 2014.
But has anyone heard the Taliban concede, "This war does not lend itself to a military solution"? Even should the Taliban come to the table and agree to compete democratically, does anyone think it will be faithful to a commitment given to the infidel Americans, once the infidel Americans depart? Why should they?
Over the next 15 months, the United States will be pulling out all or almost all of its 50,000 troops from Iraq, plus the 30,000 from the Afghan theater.
Our NATO allies will execute similar drawdowns.
This will leave Iraq up for grabs. But the Islamic world will see the U.S. pullout from Afghanistan for what it is: a retreat, forced upon a war-weary America by Islamic holy warriors who are the sons of the mujahedeen who drove out the Red Army in the 1980s and helped to bring down the Soviet Empire.
Make no mistake. Obama is headed for the exit ramp, and the Karzai government and Afghan army will not succeed where that same government and army, backed by 150,000 U.S. and NATO troops, could not succeed.
McCain and the neocons will blame what is coming, a terrible day in Kabul and across Afghanistan, on those who refused to soldier on, no matter the cost in blood and treasure.
But the people who should be indicted by history are not those who, after half a trillion dollars and a decade of bleeding, decided to cut America's losses, but those who stampeded this country into two of the longest and least necessary wars in the history of the republic.
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