Eight years ago, Barack Obama successfully campaigned for president by promising to bring troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan. Four years ago, he successfully campaigned for re-election by declaring victory in both fronts of the war on radical Islamic terror, even if he was (and remains) loathe to describe it as such.
My, how times change. Today, after years of an obvious lack of progress in Afghanistan and the object lessons provided by the disaster of his premature pullout in Iraq, Obama admitted that “the security situation in Afghanistan is precarious.” Rather than remove nearly half of the 9800 American troops as planned by the end of the year, Obama will order that the force only be reduced by 1400:
Breaking: President Obama announces 8400 troops to stay in Afghanistan into next year. pic.twitter.com/0vgTqxQ0OG
— Fox News (@FoxNews) July 6, 2016
“I will not allow Afghanistan to be used as a safe haven for terrorists again,” Obama said, adding that over the years he has made several “adjustments” in their strategy. “I strongly believe it is in our national security interest that we give our Afghan partners the ability to succeed.”
“We are no longer engaged in a major ground war in Afghanistan,” he said, but the fight is not over.
Obama had planned to drop troop levels from 9,800 to 5,500 troops by the end of 2016. But Taliban resurgence has forced Washington to rethink its exit strategy.
Mull that over for a moment. The Taliban has staged a resurgence that’s effective enough to impact our decisions on troop levels. Yet, we are still drawing our levels downward while the resurgence moves forward. How exactly does that make sense?
The Associated Press report suggests that the military might be asking the same question:
The numbers reflect a compromise between Obama’s original plan and what many military commanders had recommended.
This perpetuates a problem that has existed in Obama’s war policies since he took office. Rather than focus on winning the wars, or whether the wars are winnable or not, Obama has instead focused on how to get the US out of them with as little political damage to himself as possible.
During his 2008 campaign, he argued that Iraq had been a distraction to the “real war” in Afghanistan and had robbed it of the necessary resources for victory and departure. He then spent nearly a year in Hamletesque indecision about whether to add those resources to the effort, finally settling on a compromise “surge” — and spelling out a timetable for our exit whether it worked or not.
Not surprisingly, the Taliban saw this as an encouraging sign of flagging American stamina, which … it was. They have bided their time since, shepherding resources and gaining more through the argument that an American pullout only needed a late push from the jihadists. That’s what this “resurgence” is — the rational response to setting withdrawal timetables rather than fighting to win or getting out honestly.
One more thought: The Obama administration at least implied that the trade of five high-ranking Taliban commanders in Gitmo for deserter Bowe Bergdahl two years ago might present an opportunity for a peace settlement. How has that worked out? And what roles have any of the Taliban Five played in this “resurgence”?