Saturday, October 12, 2013

Then What Was the Bloody Point?

If the Obama administration is prepared to go to the "zero option" of leaving no American troops in Afghanistan after 2014, what was the point of two surges that drove up our casualties immensely during the Obama administration?

This may sound hopelessly naive after President Obama ordered the "zero option" in Iraq in 2011, but are we really prepared to walk away from Afghanistan after 2014?

During a testy video conference in June, President Obama drew a line in the sand for Afghan President Hamid Karzai. If there was no agreement by Oct. 31 on the terms for keeping a residual U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, Obama warned him, the United States would withdraw all of its troops at the end of 2014.

Says Boot of this report:

It is possible these issues will be resolved by Secretary of State John Kerry during his visit to Kabul. But I am not terribly optimistic because I think significant elements of the administration, starting at the top, are looking for a way out of Afghanistan and they are using disputes with Karzai as an excuse. The president who once called Afghanistan the necessary war appears to be motivated now primarily by the necessity of disengagement, at least as he sees it.

Yes it is possible. Sure, the president always hated "Bush's" war in Iraq and was happy to just say "screw 'em" and walk away mouthing platitudes about how it is up to Iraqis to solve their problems as if helping them do just that isn't in our interests.

And sure, you'd think that a candidate who promised to fight the "real" war in Afghanistan and actually did so at far higher levels of commitment than Bush did would want to defend gains made in this "war of necessity."

But you'd be wrong. Not having to face the American voters again and content to have American troops in support of Afghans through the mid-term Congressional elections is enough commitment for our president.

My question is why did our president ask our troops to fight and die for a mission he had no apparent intention of completing? Why did he ask (well, implicitly ask since he was never interested in deploying his purported near-mystical oratory powers to lead the American people in support of that war) the Congress and public to pay for that war and send our sons and daughters to that fight?

In the end, I supported the two surges even though I explicitly said I didn't think we needed either one given our objective to keep Afghanistan from being a safe haven for terrorists. But since our Pentagon said they could win faster with the surges, I deferred to their judgment despite my separate worry of having so many troops in landlocked Afghanistan without a secure land supply line (luckily that worst-case scenario didn't take place).

But we did not carry out the military's surge plan. The surge plan called for a two-stage offensive against the Taliban in the south during the first stage and then in the east in the second stage.

It was two-staged because the Pentagon didn't get their preferred surge strength to attack in both regions simultaneously. After knocking down the Taliban to a level that the Afghan security forces (improving under our guidance) could handle, we could safely scale back our presence and roles.

But throughout 2012 I waited for and looked for indications that the planned offensive in Regional Command East was taking place or about to take place. That offensive never took place.

We could still win in Afghanistan. Even if we screw up. The Afghans could yet overcome our errors going into the future.

But Iraq should be a lesson in how things can fall apart without continued US help to cement the gains we've made. Yes, Iraq could still endure mistakes we've made over Iraq, Iran, and Syria. But the odds are steeper without our presence in Iraq.

And it is shameful that President Obama--on his own terms of reference about which war was good and which war was bad--could be so ready to walk away from Afghanistan as if he didn't ask so many American troops to die for his campaign promises to focus on the "war of necessity."

UPDATE: Remember, over 70% of our casualties in Afghanistan have taken place in the nearly five years of the Obama administration as opposed to the 7+ years of the Bush administration in Afghanistan.