It is difficult to fault this disturbing analysis.
Rutland Herald/Barre Times Argus
Article published Jan 3, 2010
Is Obama sending mixed messages on war?
By HAVILAND SMITH
The Obama administration, in the face of strong, highly professional, reality-based advice and commentary warning against any Afghan build-up, has decided to go ahead with such a troop build-up coupled with a withdrawal deadline. It would seem on the face of it to be a strange mix. Why raise the ante and simultaneously set a date for a withdrawal that can easily be waited out? What is the military rationale for that?
For political observers and junkies, it is fascinating to look at the "whys" of this policy decision. Certainly it was not based on a rational assessment that the facts on the ground in Afghanistan (and Pakistan) gave any hope for its success. Quite the opposite, history and current realities argue strongly against his policy. So, the decision must have been political.
Perhaps it was based on the old George W. Bush premise that you make foreign policy, not on the basis of the way the world is, but on the basis of the way you would like it to be. There's nothing new here, as the Bush administration's neoconservatives always opted for principle-based, rather than reality-based foreign policy.
Or perhaps it was because the president felt hemmed in by the positions he took on Iraq and Afghanistan during the 2008 presidential campaign. He did say, after all, that Iraq was a mistake, but that Afghanistan was a just war that had to be pursued because it was the main theater in our struggle with al Qaida. Of course, the facts do not support him on that, but he may have felt constrained from other considerations by his own campaign position when it came to an expedient policy for Afghanistan.
Or perhaps it was made because, with absolutely no military experience and precious little foreign policy experience, he was reluctant to argue against the Pentagon and the remaining American citizens, politicians and business that share the now discredited neoconservative conviction that military power is the correct, the only decision for all such foreign policy dilemmas. One might think that after Bush, Afghanistan, Iraq and Afghanistan a second time, we could have learned. However, it may have seemed far too politically dangerous to this inexperienced administration to go up against its detractors. Particularly as the vice president is the only one with any claim whatsoever to any valid experience.
Or, perhaps it was made because of the administration calculus that to have gone in any other direction, whatever its possible promise, would have materially weakened the Democrats in the upcoming mid-term elections and ultimately in the next presidential election. The thought of returning to power a Republican Party that seems to have no policy of its own, other than to be against everything the Democrats want to do, must be terrifying to the White House and the Democratic caucus.
Or, perhaps it was made in the hope of neutralizing the Republicans' military trump card by playing it. Of course, that wouldn't work if you told your own generals, who are good at war, but not necessarily good at politics, that they are very likely wrong when they say they can "succeed."
Or perhaps he really believes that he will not lose his core supporters when they digest all the "perhapses" and realize that absent the choice he made, the Democrats might be consigned to the political dust heap in 2010 and 2012, thus losing the opportunity to implement their more significant domestic agenda.
Or perhaps, worst of all, the president has settled on the same cynical exit strategy that Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger employed in Viet Nam, where, understanding they could not win, they sought a "decent interval" between the decision to withdraw and the actual withdrawal. That might be fine for them, but what about the troops and treasure we will lose while watching our Afghan demise.
Perhaps it was all of the above combined. Whatever the truth, it would appear that this Obama Afghan policy will shake out as one of the most crassly political decisions made by a recent president.
However, he says he has done his due diligence. He has chosen his policy and begun its implementation. All we can do is wish him well and pray that in the face of inevitable, historical and contemporary realities, something positive will come of his decision.
Barring major developments in Afghanistan/Pakistan, or the opportunity to eat his words, this is the last this writer intends to offer on that subject until there is some resolution of the problem that now faces us. Everything that could have been said has been said and there is no reason to keep on beating this dead horse.
Haviland Smith is a retired CIA station chief who served in East and West Europe, the Middle East and as chief of the counterterrorism staff. He lives in Williston.