I thought of writing about Michael Moore’s cri de coeur instead, just to give you something to beat up on in the comments, but (a) Moore hasn’t been relevant for five years and (b) his screed clunks along with so many anti-war cliches that it reads more like an attempt to start a drinking game than a serious argument. The “graveyard of empires” is mentioned, as is MLK, as is the war-is-a-racket-to-scam-the-poor meme, and on and on; the only things missing are a reference to the “brutal Afghan winter” and the realization that Obama’s “landslide victory” was built in part on promises to win the war in Afghanistan, not abandon it. But then, that’s all part of Moore’s schtick. He’s forever being betrayed by the Democrats (his open letters to Obama always have a treacly Sullivan-esque “don’t break my heart” tone to them), even on matters where they’ve explicitly campaigned against his position. If you care enough to read it, follow the link.
I’d rather talk about Jason Chaffetz. This is now the third prominent conservative voice in two weeks to call for getting out of Afghanistan because Obama won’t “fight to win” or some variation thereof. Fred Thompson led the charge, and then Glenn Beck chimed in with his free advice to vets about how maybe they shouldn’t reenlist. Now here comes Chaffetz advising Obama to “go big or go home” by defining the mission specifically and relaxing the rules of engagement — before proceeding to this:
Mr. President, it is time to bring our troops home.
If our mission in Afghanistan is simply to protect the populace and build the nation, then I believe the time has come to bring our troops home.
We have successfully rooted out Al-Qaeda from Afghanistan. Fewer than 100 Al-Qaeda operatives are operating in Afghanistan according to Retired General James L. Jones’ assessment of the situation. “I don’t foresee the return of the Taliban,” he said in an October 4 Associated Press report. Jones, who is President Obama’s National Security Advisor, continued: “Afghanistan is not in imminent danger of falling. The al Qaeda presence is very diminished. The maximum estimate is less than 100 operating in the country, no bases, no ability to launch attacks on either us or our allies.”
Mr. President, we all recognize that we will still have to fight Al-Qaeda around the globe. So let’s bring home the tens of thousands who have fought so valiantly to protect America.
Let’s instead use the best human and electronic surveillance available to allow our special forces to target and kill those who actually threaten us.
I don’t know where to begin. For starters, if he thinks it’s time to go home, why even preface this with the “go big” option? That smacks of CYA, as if he’s afraid to fully commit to his pullout position and is trying to fob off some of the blame for it onto The One because he won’t “fight hard enough” or whatever. If you want out, say so; I have few kind things to say about Ron Paul, but at least when he wants to quit, he doesn’t try to pretend it’s because Obama’s too soft. As for the specifics, where else around the world does he think we need a significant troop presence to fight Al Qaeda? Does the Chaffetz plan call for an invasion of Yemen or Somalia or something? (Bonus irony: While he’s busy demanding that we free up tens of thousands of troops to fight AQ around the globe, he insists that we can handle AQ in Afghanistan and Pakistan with a small number of hunter-killer teams).
As for his dismissal of the threat still posed by AQ in that region, I’ll let lefty Fred Kaplan — who’s also ambivalent about the war, but not prepared to deceive himself about the consequences of withdrawal — handle it:
As with confronting most messes in life, the initial impulse is to flee. But if we simply pulled out, it’s a near-certain bet that the Taliban would march into Kabul, and most other Afghan towns they’d care to, in a matter of weeks. True, the Taliban are not the same as al-Qaida, but there’s little doubt that they would provide sanctuary and alliance (as they did after the Soviets were ousted), and this would strengthen al-Qaida in its struggle against Pakistan, the United States, and others.
One might dispute the significance of this, at least for its direct danger to the United States. Al-Qaida, after all, can plan attacks on U.S. territory from other sanctuaries, even from apartments in Western cities. But it’s naive to claim that leaving Afghanistan would have no broader effect.
Another problem with withdrawing is that it would signal, correctly or not, a huge victory for anti-American forces generally. If we left Afghanistan to the Taliban (and, by extension, al-Qaida), especially after such a prolonged commitment (at least rhetorically), what other embattled people would trust the United States (or the other putative allies in this war) to come in and protect them from insurgents? None, and they could hardly be blamed.
Beyond all that, after reading Chaffetz and listening to Thompson and Beck, I’m still not sure what it would mean to “go big” or “fight to win.” Those phrases are tossed around a lot as catch-all reasons to be skeptical of Obama, but rarely are they precisely defined. Assume he surprises us all tomorrow night by giving McChrystal the full complement of 40,000 troops that he requested. Good enough? Kaplan notes that a counterinsurgency strategy in line with the Army field manual would require 400,000 troops. Is that the new conservative position, and if so, are we prepared to support a draft to realize it? Also, how specifically should we relax the rules of engagement? The One, to his credit, continued Bush’s policy of drone attacks on AQ leaders even though the risk of collateral damage is high; he doesn’t seem strikingly more squeamish about civilian casualties than Dubya was, and yet conservative support for the war in Afghanistan was rock solid until this year. And yet the ROEs come up a lot in righty critiques of the war, even though none of the chief strategic challenges of Afghanistan — the government is weak and corrupt, the Taliban is hard to find and pin down, and we lack enough boots on the ground for a robust clear-and-hold counterinsurgency strategy — would seem to change dramatically by relaxing them. But then, my military ignorance got me in trouble last week so I may well be stepping in it again. How am I wrong here?