Last month, The Washington Post reported that President Barack Obama had asked senior officials for a province-by-province analysis of Afghanistan “to help determine which regions are being managed effectively by local leaders and which require international help.” He supposedly wanted “the clearest possible understanding of what the challenges are to our forces and what is required to meet the challenge.”
But now two weeks later the Associated Press reports that President Obama has rejected all of the options presented by his national security team and is now asking for “revisions to clarify how and when U.S. troops would turn over responsibility to the Afghan government.” The White House continues to assert that Obama just needs more time to properly calibrate how to communicate to the Afghan government that it “must improve in a reasonable period of time.” But Obama has been President for ten months now, and his rhetoric during the campaign would tend to suggest that he has been aware for sometime of our struggles in Afghanistan. The truth is the Pentagon has been scrutinizing the failures of our AfPak strategy for over two years and the new administration has benefited from all the work done before it took the White House. The argument that we need more study, or that half measures will do, is wearing pretty thin. All this news makes it look like the president is shopping for a rationale to justify a commitment that is “politically” acceptable in Washington.
In fact, the ongoing public debate about Afghanistan has already cost the U.S. credibility with its NATO allies and is confusing our regional partners who are starting to hedge their bets and plan for a decreased U.S. commitment to the region. As well-known Pakistan expert Ahmed Rashid commented on October 27th in an article in the National Interest, “Every sign of the United States or NATO dithering over strategy only convinces the Pakistani military about keeping its Taliban option open.”
Yes, the recent flawed Afghan election was a setback to international efforts to stabilize Afghanistan, but as Heritage senior research fellow Lisa Curtis notes: “Part of the reason Karzai’s reputation has suffered is the deteriorating security situation — so it stands to reason that providing additional U.S. troops to reverse Taliban momentum, as Gen. Stanley McChrystal has requested, would also increase the credibility of the Afghan regime. While the Obama administration is right to demand cleaner rule from Karzai, it also must be realistic about the security situation and acknowledge that stemming Taliban advances is vital to U.S. national security interests.”
The Obama administration used to believe that defeating the Taliban was a vital national security interest. It was just this past August when President Obama said: “This is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans. So this is not only a war worth fighting. This is a — this is fundamental to the defense of our people.”
We need a decision from President Obama, and pretty compelling rationale to support it, soon. Obama’s Afghan strategy should provide U.S. military commanders on the ground with the resources they need to fight a successful counterinsurgency campaign against the Taliban. Depriving our commanders of the resources they require is a recipe for failure.
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