Joe Biden appeared on Meet the Press on Sunday to discuss the war in Afghanistan, among other issues, and left the Wall Street Journal wondering whether the Obama administration supports its own announced policies. While Barack Obama has spent the last year since the surge insisting that troop reductions will depend on circumstances on the ground, Biden announced that the US would pull out entirely no later than 2014:
We’ve supported President Obama’s Afghan surge, but sometimes it’s hard to tell if his Administration does. Only days after the President spoke about supporting our troops until they finish the job, Vice President Joe Biden did one of his famous foot-in-mouth numbers.
Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, the master of subtle diplomatic messaging declared that on July 2011 the U.S. really will begin to leave the Afghan theater. “It will not be a token amount” of troops leaving, Mr. Biden said, adding that “We’re going to be totally of there come hell or high water by 2014.”
The White House had to do some backtracking yesterday:
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs tried to clarify yesterday that Mr. Biden was only referring to the “combat role” of U.S. forces in 2014. But Mr. Biden’s remarks will reinforce the view, widely held in Kabul and Pakistan, that the Americans are short-timers and so everyone in the region ought to make their accommodations with the Taliban. Mr. Biden’s glib rhetoric implying a lack of American staying power will in particular make it that much harder for General David Petraeus to get the support of Pakistan’s military in rooting out Taliban sanctuaries in North Waziristan and around Quetta.
And people have noticed. On YouTube, Voice of America has already helpfully translated it for its viewers in Afghanistan. It won’t take long for word to spread through the country that the US wants to leave in the next three years, “come hell or high water.” Many of the Taliban have been in the field almost constantly since the Soviet invasion of 1980; another three years won’t bother them at all.
The proper message, as the WSJ notes, is to signal our long-term commitment to the democratically elected government of Afghanistan. That doesn’t necessarily mean a combat mission, but holding onto a couple of air bases and a strategic deployment of troops will send a message of commitment. We run the danger of losing influence in that region by signaling a desire to be “totally out of there,” a phrase which means absolutely no commitment of any kind to our allies in the area, and a signal of surrender to our enemies.
What was Biden thinking? Obviously, Biden wants to play for his anti-war base in the hopes of re-energizing the people who put him and Barack Obama into office. The question is whether Obama sent him out explicitly to get this message onto national TV. If so, then this administration is playing a dishonest game with the American people. If not, Biden’s not playing with a full deck. Either way, Biden doesn’t belong in that office, and it’s likely that the American people will come to the same conclusion about his boss.