December 12, 2009

Date certain withdrawal - always a mistake

This death and devastation is what you get when you tell the enemy the date when you will withdraw your troops. It was a mistake in Iraq - 127 dead in one day - and it is a mistake in Afghanistan. Setting a date certain for leaving the fight is a bad idea - it almost guarantees an outcome less than victory.

This concept is not new, nor is it rocket science. It is, however, irresponsible and dangerous. Expect the scene above to continue in Iraq, and expect it to begin in about 18 months in Afghanistan.

I don't know who the President is listening to for military advice, but I suspect that it is some political hack that has never worn a uniform or heard a shot fired in anger. I keep wondering where is General Jim Jones, the alleged national security advisor - surely he knows better. The former commandant of the Marine Corps should be telling the President that his seemingly unwavering commitment to begin the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan in June of 2011 is a bad idea.

Withdrawal of troops should begin only when the mission has been accomplished. Of course, much of that depends on how you define mission accomplishment. For those of us who have worn a uniform and heard a shot fired in anger, it means victory. I used to believe that the President had trouble using the word victory, however, I am starting to believe that he has trouble with the actual concept of victory.

The President has taken the first step - he made the decision to augment American forces in Afghanistan. Personally, I question the wisdom of a counterinsurgency strategy versus counterterrorism, but in any case, he has made the decision. We can debate whether his stated goal of defeating al-Qa'idah is reasonable, given the fact that most of al-Qa'idah is no longer in Afghanistan, and the Taliban is not a threat to American interests.

Obama's acceptance speech at the Nobel ceremony was another good step. I am sure he ruffled the feathers of the pacifist Europeans - another good step. One might get the impression that the President was on the road to recovery and actually becoming the commander in chief in more than just name. Then, he fell off the wagon and reiterated his commitment to the 18-month timetable for withdrawal.

If the President continues with this policy, we are setting up Afghanistan for the type of continuing internecine violence we see now in Iraq. Al-Qa'idah in Iraq waited patiently until the more-capable American forces withdrew from the cities and turned over security duties over to Iraqi units, then began a series of attacks hoping to restart the civil war with the Shi'a majority. Thus far, they have failed, but have killed thousands of Iraqis and highlighted the fragility of the Iraqi government.

The Taliban understands the concept as well. They will wait out the Americans, just as the Afghans have waited out invaders before. At least this time, they know exactly how long they have to wait. In June 2011, this latest set of invaders will declare victory and start to return home.

Come on, General, explain to the President what a bad idea this is.