Or, more accurately, while you were voting. Was Barack Obama conveniently waiting for after the midterm elections to add another year of combat duty to our tour in Afghanistan, or is this just a big coincidence? YMMV, but the New York Times suggests that the decision was made longer than just 17 days ago in this Friday night document dump:
President Obama decided in recent weeks to authorize a more expansive mission for the military in Afghanistan in 2015 than originally planned, a move that ensures American troops will have a direct role in fighting in the war-ravaged country for at least another year.
Mr. Obama’s order allows American forces to carry out missions against the Taliban and other militant groups threatening American troops or the Afghan government, a broader mission than the president described to the public earlier this year, according to several administration, military and congressional officials with knowledge of the decision. The new authorization also allows American jets, bombers and drones to support Afghan troops on combat missions.
In an announcement in the White House Rose Garden in May, Mr. Obama said that the American military would have no combat role in Afghanistan next year, and that the missions for the 9,800 troops remaining in the country would be limited to training Afghan forces and to hunting the “remnants of Al Qaeda.”
The decision to change that mission was the result of a lengthy and heated debate that laid bare the tension inside the Obama administration between two often-competing imperatives: the promise Mr. Obama made to end the war in Afghanistan, versus the demands of the Pentagon that American troops be able to successfully fulfill their remaining missions in the country.
First off, let’s note that this is the right move to make, unless we just wanted to pull everything out all at once. The decision that we would only engage al-Qaeda while the civil war raged onward with the Taliban was nothing short of fanciful. It would be akin to saying (although on a smaller scale, obviously) that we invaded Germany to find remnants of Vichy in 1945, but didn’t want to engage the German troops. The Taliban and the Haqqanis continue to attack our troops, and that wouldn’t stop just because we told them we only wanted to keep fighting AQ. The US troops support the government that the Taliban and the Haqqani network wants to destroy.
It should also be noted that the experience in Iraq should have forced this change months ago. Obama originally wanted to pull off the same kind of departure from Afghanistan that left Iraq ripe for collapse even though there was no civil war going on at the time. Later, Obama insisted that we end combat missions in Afghanistan but leave enough of a force on the ground for counter-terrorism operations, in the middle of a 30-year-plus civil war. Iraq provided the grotesque proof that leaving a war is not the same as ending it, no matter how many times Obama publicly credits himself with the latter.
One NYT source said, “The military pretty much got what it wanted.” That’s what happens when the civilian leadership of the country makes mistake after mistake and it finally blows up in their face — as happened in Iraq.
As for the timing, res ipsa loquitur. If this decision got made “in recent weeks,” it sure seems convenient that it leaked out seventeen days after the midterm elections. Democrats relied on base turnout to salvage what Senate and House seats they could, but had this news come out in October or September, how many of those progressives would have walked away? Probably enough to cost a seat or two, perhaps in New Hampshire or in Virginia, as it turns out.
Eight years ago, George Bush changed direction on the Iraq War after the midterms, too. In that case, however, Bush acted to fulfill his promise to fight the war to victory, and replaced the deeply unpopular Donald Rumsfeld at Defense with Robert Gates. Bush could have perhaps helped his midterm cause by doing both before the midterms, but chose to wait instead. The delay from Obama to renege on his promise looks entirely political and manipulative, even if the policy is an improvement on what it replaces.
Update: The Hill brings us this blast from the past in response to this news:
Vice President Biden in 2010 said the United States would withdraw from Afghanistan by 2014 “come hell or high water,” an unlikely outcome as reports surface that President Obama recently expanded the mission.
“We’re starting it in July of 2011 and we’re going to be totally out of there, come hell or high water, by 2014,” he said four years ago, according to The Telegraph.
Even at that time, though, the Obama administration had to backtrack after that statement.