Top Ten Questions and Answers on Obama’s Strategy in Afghanistan

Kim Holmes and James Carafano /

1. If the President sends 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, does that count as a “surge?”

Simply put, no, because the use of that term implies an Iraq-like strategy of ramping up forces to the maximum of what the generals are requesting. It has been widely reported that General McChrystal’s assessment for additional troops to achieve maximum chance of success was between 60,000 and 80,000 troops. While the President’s decision is better than no new troops at all, it falls short of that assessment. Additionally, the White House plans to add troops over time as it sees fit, and not necessarily “surge” forces for maximum affect. We hope that the President’s far riskier strategy succeeds. If it does not, we must remember the options he had available to him before this decision. He had the chance to turn this war around; if he does not, the result will be his responsibility alone.

2. Is tonight’s announcement of a strategy the result of a thoughtful, deliberative process?

The delay in making a decision is inexcusable. Given that President Obama has been in office over 10 months; was privy to extensive briefings on the Afghan situation before that; the many months General McChrystal has been on the job; and the critical situation on the ground, the delay has put the mission and American soldiers in graver jeopardy. If McChrystal originally asked for 40,000 troops, as the White House would like you to believe, it is incomprehensible to believe that it took many months to simply lower that number by 5,000.

3. Even some Republicans are starting to question whether we should be in Afghanistan at all, if we’re not prepared to win by all means necessary. Is that the alternative choice?

No, this is a false choice. We must win. This is not an “optional” war in which a pull out will be cost free. A pull out will be exceedingly dangerous to the nation, possibly leading not only to another 9/11 but also to the destabilization and the possible fall of Pakistan. We should never forget that Pakistan has nuclear weapons.

4. Isn’t any opposition to the President’s strategy simply partisan bickering, and more importantly, shouldn’t we rally around the Commander in Chief during this critical time?

We want President Obama and his strategy to succeed. There may be a natural impulse to argue to “give the President’s plan a chance.” While we respect our military and civilian leadership’s views, the ultimate test of strategy is success on the battlefield. There is absolutely no partisan element to the purely military calculation that success would be achieved with less risk if the President sent in the requested 60,000 to 80,000 new troops and fully committed to the strategy without engaging in a blueprint for defeat even if veiled as an “exit strategy.”

5. How long does the President have before his strategy can be viewed as a success or failure?

It takes months to transfer the military personnel and resources to the theatre before any measurement of success can be taken. That’s what makes the President’s delayed decision-making all the more inexcusable. In the meantime, al-Qaeda and the Tailban will likely do everything in their power to match the U.S. buildup, drive up U.S. military casualties, attack civilian aid, kill innocents in Pakistan and attack the Pakistan government and military to create the impression that the war cannot be won. In particular, they will aim their actions to inflame the “anti-war” movement in the United States. We should remember this when any increase in violence in the months ahead prompts knee-jerk calls to withdraw.

6. President Obama has been criticized for focusing on an “exit strategy” win or lose, but isn’t an open ended commitment simply nation-building? Don’t we have to leave at some point, and won’t that be announced regardless?

Telegraphing our exit to al-Qaeda will only lead to further questioning US resolve. The strategy of building capacity for Afghans to govern themselves is not open-ended or “nation-building,” which implies some fruitless undertaking, but intended to help the Afghans to build the capacity to defend themselves (and to keep the Taliban and al-Qaeda from establishing safe havens) so that we can bring U.S. troops home. This is an achievable goal; after all, it was achieved in Iraq. The ultimate purpose is to protect American lives and interests, not simply to do good for the Afghan people.

7. General McChrystal is likely to say he can achieve some necessary goals with the President’s announcement; will President Obama’s strategy give him the resources to make this reality?

It remains to be seen whether the troop request will be sufficient. We hope it will be. In the meantime, the basic concept of McChrystal’s strategy is sound. The U.S. must reduce the space in Afghanistan for the Taliban to operate; and it must also build the capacity of the Afghan government to serve and secure the safety of the people. All that requires additional boots on the ground, and the more the sooner, the better. While 30,000 troops is a start, we should remember McChrystal’s original assessment of 60,000-80,000.

8. Senior Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee are saying that if we simply had captured Osama Bin Laden in 2001, this war could have been averted or successfully cut short – is this true?

Absolutely not, and the mere idea reflects a mindset that left us vulnerable to terrorism in the first place. Even if Osama Bin Laden had been captured or killed, there were thousands of al-Qaeda lieutenants willing to take his place. The U.S. has successfully killed or captured many of them in the past 8 years. Add to that a Taliban government in Afghanistan that was willing to safely harbor terrorist training camps and fund operations against the West. Even President Obama has called this a “war of necessity.”

Defeating the Taliban, destroying al-Qaeda and establishing an Afghanistan that can govern and look after its own people are in the vital interests of the United States. The alternative risks genocide in Afghanistan, a resurgent al-Qaeda, a return to pre-9/11 threat, and a destabilization of a region that could lead to war between India and Pakistan, both of whom have nuclear weapons.

9. Isn’t sending 30,000 troops to Afghanistan a continuation of the “small footprint” strategy that many criticized President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld for employing?

Yes. The same people who now support limiting our troop commitment to Afghanistan, or focusing on drone strikes were criticizing the last administration for not being forceful enough at the outset of the war, even before the war with Iraq had begun. Simply put, the small footprint strategy has been proven not to work, and does not lessen the view of terrorists that we are “occupying” their land. And it often leads to bad intelligence which makes surgical strikes not so surgical, adding to the propaganda efforts of the enemy.

10. Is cost an issue? Haven’t we spent enough on these wars, when people are losing jobs, the domestic economy is suffering and our debt is so high?

Preventing another 9-11 should be, by anyone’s definition, a top strategic objective of the United States, and thus should also be a top budgetary priority. How does one put a price on the lives lost on that tragic day? Winning the war in Afghanistan is part of the strategy of preventing a similar disaster from occurring again. It should categorically take precedence over new Cash for Clunkers programs, new stimulus bills, new global warming programs and new bailouts. Unlike these dubious programs, providing for the national defense is a constitutionally mandated function of the national government, its primary reason for being.

Yet, President Obama has spent his first year in office spending at an unprecedented rate while cutting major defense programs. With the national debt now topping $12 trillion, the White House estimates the annual interest to exceed $700 billion a year in 2019, up from $202 billion this year, even if annual budget deficits shrink drastically. An additional $500 billion a year in interest expense would total more than the combined federal budgets this year for education, energy, homeland security and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. So in perspective, Afghanistan strategy sessions are not the meetings the OMB Director should be spending his time in.