A few more thoughts on Obama’s Afghanistan speech

posted at 8:48 am on December 2, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

There has already been plenty of commentary about Barack Obama’s announced plans for expanding the number of US troops in Afghanistan as well as the quality of the speech.  I missed the delivery last night, but read the transcript instead, thanks to a bout of flu that the First Mate has had since the weekend.  In reading the transcript, I was struck by the lack of a sense of mission — with the sole exception of getting out.

First, increasing the troops is the right thing to do, and Obama should be praised for making that decision.  It cuts against almost every precept of Obama’s political clique, and it will cost him on the hard Left.  He came close enough to General Stanley McChrystal’s recommendations to get the commander’s immediate endorsement, and while I’m sure McChrystal would have preferred more troops, he’s in the best position to judge Obama’s decision.  McChrystal could have just kept his mouth shut, after all.

Nor do I think that this means Obama suddenly “owns” the war, as some are saying.  He already increased troop strength significantly earlier this year, which would have been the “ownership” moment politically.  But even that’s specious.  He owned the war when he became Commander in Chief and didn’t end it, as would have been well within his power.  In truth, the fight in Afghanistan has not been  Bush’s war, either, at least not in the sense that Iraq was.  The entire nation, with very few exceptions, demanded military action against the Taliban, and it has been America’s war ever since.

Also, some are criticizing Obama for saying that our economy won’t support both a war and a recovery, and that he has to make tough choices about American resources when deciding on how or whether to fight the war.  He’s right about that.  We do not have an endless supply of money or fighting men and women, and the Commander in Chief has to make exactly those decisions — and they’re never easy choices.  War is an economic issue in many respects, and part of deciding to fight is a calculation about whether the country can afford it.  The British empire went broke almost 90 years ago attempting to hold its parts of the Ottoman Empire, a decision that has led us to where we’re at today, it should be noted.

Obama has decided to fight the war with the proper resourcing, or close to it.  But what exactly is the purpose of the escalation?  There was no sense of purpose in the speech, no grand sense of mission, save one: getting out.  Obama never once mentioned “victory” in the address, nor attempt to define (or even re-define) what he wanted for an outcome.  He talked about human rights, but never mentioned “democracy” except its symbols in Washington and our attempt to bolster it … in Pakistan.  In fact, he mentioned “Vietnam” four times.

In defining our mission’s expiration date as 18 months, Obama has undermined whatever good the counterinsurgency strategy will do.  For COIN to work, forces have to “flood the zone,” but they also have to build trust with locals and encourage better intel.  The only way to do that is to impress on locals the notion that we’re sticking around.  No one will cooperate with American troops if they know we’re bugging out in 18 months.  They’re going to decide to cut the best deals they can with the Taliban, who will simply decide to outlast us.

That doesn’t mean we stick around forever, but it does mean that we don’t tip our hand on our own timetable.  A President can order troops to withdraw at any time, with or without “off-ramps”.  Those decisions about resources, goals, and American resolve aren’t made once but constantly during wars, especially foreign wars.  Having an 18-month timetable may or may not be a mistake, but announcing one is a terrible blunder in wartime.

The only sense of real mission I get from this speech is that we’re going to send 30,000 more troops now so we can start evacuating all of them in the summer of 2011.  It sounds like a slow-motion Dunkirk, and it recalls what Winston Churchill had to say after being congratulated for rescuing the entire British Army and a good portion of the French Army in 1940 from that massive cross-Channel evacuation: “Wars are not won by evacuations.”  And apparently Obama agrees, since he didn’t bother to talk about victory at all, but instead treated it as a massive responsibility that he reluctantly will fulfill.

That’s no way to fight a war.  Under these circumstances, it would be better to start the evacuation now, rather than have any more of our ground troops targeted by the Taliban for a country they’ll soon be running again anyway.

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Can you have a conditions based surge and a benchmark based timetable for withdrawal? Sounds like both answers are mutually exclusive, unless you are a master of standardized testing in which case you know “all of the above” is the most likely answer.

After months of reflection and study the best Obama could come up with was All of the Above?

Angry Dumbo on December 2, 2009 at 6:46 PM

This is what was going through my mind yesterday when Hussain was reading off the teleprompter

After TOTUS’s blah blah,
here is the taliban strategy for the next 2 years :
Get out of Afghanistan into Pakistan before snow closes the mountain-passes ( by January 2010)
Stay in Pakistan during the surge in Afganistan, summer to fall 2010
Violence goes down and Karzai looks in control in summer-fall of 2010
Taliban start returning to Afghanistan mixed with the displaced Afghan refugees, from Pakistan and lay dormant
US+Allies forces leave Afghanistan by start of 2011, Taliban is well rested, rearmed and have nothing to fear. And Karzai is scared out of his mind, as he is on his own.
Good for taliban
Good for Obama in 2012

macncheez on December 1, 2009 at 9:13 PM

I thought later that maybe I was being too hard on him and maybe his intentions are not so bad.I was wrong.
This is very alarming for our troops.

macncheez on December 2, 2009 at 6:52 PM

A reporter on ABC in DC said that the audience burst into spontaneous applause several times during the speech.

That ain’t the way I heard it.

Dhuka on December 2, 2009 at 7:18 PM


No this wasnt about afghanistan
Nor was this about winning the war against
Islamic terrorism..

No this speech was about
obama and the democrats
All of them empty suits

Trying to make themselves look tough
so they wont be thrown out office
during the elections

These Liberal PUSSIES
ALL of them dont have a fighting bone in their bodies
And every one knows it..

EXCEPT FOR the liberals..
The liberals are like homer simpson..

Standing in front of the mirror
Bravery and Strength..

When in reality they are all
Drunken, drugged out
old, creepy child molesting
treasonist perverts..

And thats their only good qualities..

And i say the same thing for any
so called conservative who in the face of battle
After sending our soliders to fight for so long..

Then wants to cower down and hide behind a white flag of surrender..

veteranoutrage on December 2, 2009 at 7:19 PM

Given the current ROE, insufficient troop surge level and the amazingly idiotic notice to the enemy of their victory date…I would rather Obama had just announced an immediate withdrawal.

Then we could nuke the joint.

Meremortal on December 2, 2009 at 7:31 PM

Very well stated Ed. Obama, like democrats before him, has no concept of Victory or national defense.

Zorro on December 2, 2009 at 7:47 PM

In Which the Terrorists Win

In his thorough history of 9/11 The Looming Towers, Lawrence Wright makes a pretty persuasive case that Osama bin Laden’s goal in planning out terrorist attacks throughout the 1990s was to suck the U.S. into a Soviet-style war in Afghanistan. Bin Laden had no delusions about turning the U.S. into a Muslim country. Instead, he wanted to pull America into an expensive, dispiriting, unwinnable war—the sort of war nearly every power that has invaded Afghanistan has had to extract itself from, tail between legs. […]

We do have a pretty good idea how bin Laden pictured victory. It looks a lot like what we’re seeing now. He wanted a holy war. We gave him two. We’ve compromised our values, rolled back civil liberties, and let our politicians generally scare the crap out of us whenever they want new powers. Oh, and we’ve let the bastard live to gloat about it all.

This war should have been over the moment we disposed of the Taliban. The military doesn’t build liberal societies. They destroy illiberal ones (and they do it very well).

Rae on December 2, 2009 at 8:03 PM

I saw President Bush speak in San Antonio today.

It felt so good to stand up and cheer him along with 20,000 other people.

He spoke (without a teleprompter) eloquently for 45+ minutes. What an excellent, motivating speaker.

Not once did he disparage President Obama, despite Obama’s constant bad mouthing of the Bush Administration.

He gave us the reason why, once again, we need to finish this war properly. Democracies don’t wage war upon one another.

I really miss President Bush. We have a total void of leadership in the Oval Office and I would have rather Obama just quit, cut and run like he wants to, because it’s clear that he has no faith in our country or in the values it used to stand for, prior to his taking office.

NoDonkey on December 2, 2009 at 9:25 PM

obama again his terrible, terrible speech insults this country; says the military is patronizing the afghan country.

jaboba on December 2, 2009 at 9:50 PM

Audacious potus candidate Obama reiterated publicly that bombing Pakistan was fine, to the horror of his Republican opponent McCain who debated that you NEVER have the right to threaten our Pakistan ally.

At the point of that presidential debate, Bush had already pushed al Qaeda OUT of Afghanistan. For all WE know, bin Laden was in Pakistan all along. We DO know he’s there now. But since Obama’s election, Pahkeestahn has been his pet kitten.

Why would anyone take courage given the cheer leading Gingrich and Rove patting the Obama speech on the back? Gingrich and Rove know nothing about military strategy and NEVER specialized in military history of warfare. They specialize in American politics and influencing voters with rhetoric and in tracking polls. They both represent business interests while posing with concern for Americans.

The Fred Thompson Show website archive provides his interviews with experts this past week. Afghanistan in NOT a country but only a collection of tribes who don’t agree about anything. There is no way feasible for the US to “win” in Afghanistan without killing everyone who lives there AND in Pakistan. We don’t even have necessary intelligence from the Afghan tribes to protect the forces we’ve already placed in that meat grinder. And whatever recruits we enlist from the Afghan tribes have tribal allegiance and loyalty to the Taliban. So we will corrupt our own security as the Afghan Army recruits sabotage our every move, just as occurred in Vietnam as the enemy communists recruited into the South Vietnamese Army and leaked intelligence sabotaging our every effort there. Right now there’s the Karzai 12 Rules of Engagement that require our forces to make certain that the enemy is ready to return fire before our troops can open fire, and that our forces can NOT raid or search without first getting a permission slip from the Taliban village.

That knowledge substantiates Michael Savage’s observations regarding Afghanistan. Americans don’t recognize the details of the Soviet experience fighting the Taliban in the Himalayas where brigades disappeared, never heard from again. Our troops are not trained or equipped to fight on the ground in the Himalayas. And even if our troops were trained in the Alaskan wilderness, our troops would still be ignorant of the exact details of the Himalayan geography. Whereas, the Taliban OWN every inch the Himalayan nooks and crannies. If America must be at war with the Taliban in the Himalayas, then let them congregate and then destroy them from the sky with multiple runs, leaving the mountains a barren no man’s land. And since it was al Qaeda all along that America declared war on initially after 9/11, are we going to chase them into Africa where they are now, and every other Indonesian country, conducting war on al Qaeda everywhere they are today or tomorrow? Either fight to win by eliminating the enemy, or take a stand where no terrorism is tolerated and protect the USA from the enemy at our own borders and within our own countryside.

Our FIRST battle must be to rescind and obliterate PC. Otherwise, we sacrifice our own to doom, and our troops blood will be on America’s hands. Those of us OUTSIDE of the military are the only ones with the power to END PC, and unleash our troops from the bonds of PC, and restore their unalienable right for self defense. Mutiny is out of the question.

Our national defense takes priority to all other Congressional funding. So rescind all tax funds from the global warming hoax including the fraudulent “economic advantages” of green energy, and appropriate those tax funds to defending the US BORDERS from terrorists. And regarding “sacrifice” that Obama touts, America can WAIT and truly research and produce veritable health care legislation. Obama can do without his pets in order to protect our troops from slaughter. Again, this is OUR battle to fight on behalf of our troops.

maverick muse on December 3, 2009 at 8:56 AM

I agree. It seems Obama is unable to understand big issues with any clarity. This is common for people who see themselves before they see anything else. However, if you want to fight to win, we have done so many times in the past. Here is one example.


archer52 on December 3, 2009 at 10:07 AM

I like this version of Obama’s speech much better.

gordo on December 4, 2009 at 1:27 AM