Today’s OOTD comes to us from national security expert Jed Babbin at RCP, who notices that Barack Obama offered a bit of a mixed message on the war in Afghanistan. After making timelines for drawdowns as part of his surge plan for the Af-Pak theater, Obama has been pressured on both sides to either reinforce them or abandon them for a conditions-based strategy. Babbin notes that Obama attempted to have his cake and eat it too instead:
Obama confused military leaders – and voters – with his Oval Office speech. Marine Commandant Gen. James Conway had said that setting the withdrawal date was giving the enemy sustenance and that the Taliban leaders would have a lot of explaining to do with their troops when we didn’t leave. Gen. David Petraeus, Afghanistan commander, said repeatedly that the withdrawal would depend on conditions on the ground.
Obama recited that “conditions on the ground” as rote. He repeated his goal, saying that, “We will disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al Qaeda, while preventing Afghanistan from again serving as a base for terrorists.”
But Obama contradicted himself and overrode what Conway and Petraeus said, reconfirming the July 2011 withdrawal date regardless of the circumstances: “But make no mistake: this transition will begin – because open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people’s.” He then proceeded to cite a litany of liberal spending initiatives (education, reducing oil consumption) as the way to honor returning troops.
Maybe Obama’s idea of a conditions-based strategy is a condition that the calendar read a certain date. No one wants an open-ended war, certainly not the Afghans, whose legitimacy will not be settled until the elected government stands on its own without NATO. But the Afghans who have cast their lot with democracy don’t want the US checking its watch and telegraphing the fact that they’re mostly looking forward to a predetermined bug-out date, either. Offering the two mutually exclusive strategies in the same war speech might have been intended to confuse the enemy, but the only one who really looks confused is Obama himself.
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