I’m all for winding down our commitment in Afghanistan, but it should be for solid reasons to do with the security and stability of that nation and not because of US politics. Alas I fear what we’ll hear tonight has been decided for exactly that reason and no other.
Barack Obama is set to reject the advice of the Pentagon by announcing on Wednesday night the withdrawal of up to 30,000 troops from Afghanistan by November next year, in time for the US presidential election.
The move comes despite warnings from his military commanders that recent security gains are fragile. They have been urging him to keep troop numbers high until 2013.
The accelerated drawdown will dismay American and British commanders in Kabul, who have privately expressed concern that the White House is now being driven by political rather than military imperatives.
And, of course, they’re entirely right. Obviously military commanders are going to argue for more, not less – and most people understand that. They will always say they need more. But in this case, what they’re arguing is they need to keep what they have. The so-called “surge” has barely been completed and full deployment of those assets is only months old. We’re in the middle of a “fighting season”. Certainly it would be better to announce and begin these withdrawals, whatever their size, in the colder months when the fighting is naturally less.
But to the point – “listening to the generals” is apparently only something Republican Commanders in Chief should do. Obama has decided, for entirely unmilitary reasons, it is time to pull the plug on any hope of holding our gains in Afghanistan. Note, I didn’t say get out of A’stan. 30,000 troops isn’t even close to a full withdrawal (100,000 there now). However, it is a margin of difference between consolidating and keeping what we’ve driven the Taliban out of and being too thinly spread to do that. In fact, that was the whole purpose of the surge (just as in Iraq) – take and hold.
The withdrawal has created deep divisions in Washington. The defence secretary, Robert Gates, argued for a modest reduction – at one point as low as 2,000 – citing the advice of US commanders in Afghanistan that they need to protect gains made during the winter against the Taliban.
But senior White House staff, conscious that the president has an election to fight next year, argued in favour of a reduction that would send a signal to the US public that an end to the war is in sight.
General Petraeus and his staff have made clear the risk of pulling out 30,000 troops this soon. Obama has chosen to ignore their advice for political reasons. Some will attempt to characterize this as a “gutsy call” when in fact it is anything but that. It is the antithesis of a gutsy call – it is a decision driven by political and not military reasons. In fact, it would appear the military’s reasons for wanting a much smaller withdrawal weren’t really considered at all. That is to say, this was a decision made on a timeline quite a while ago, the reality of the situation be damned.
Interestingly, this was the “good war”, the “necessary war”, the “war we ought to be fighting” when Mr. Obama was a candidate. As with much he does, he’s taken a swipe at it to satisfy one group of political critics and is now pulling out to satisfy another.
The war (or is it a “kinetic event?”)?
It’s a “distraction.”