Words have consequences. This is by no means comprehensive, but a sampling of a few benchmark statements from Senator Obama and President Obama, as well as editorials and op-ed analysis:
“We’ve got to get the job done there and that requires us to have enough troops so that we’re not just air-raiding villages and killing civilians, which is causing enormous problems there,”
July 20, 2008, Face the Nation with Lara Logan:
Obama: “The Afghan government needs to do more. But we have to understand that the situation is precarious and urgent here in Afghanistan. And I believe this has to be our central focus, the central front, on our battle against terrorism.”
Logan: “Why does it have to be the central focus? What is so critical to U.S. interests here?”
Obama: “This is where they can plan attacks. They have sanctuary here. They are gathering huge amounts of money as a consequence of the drug trade in the region. And so that global network is centered in this area. And I think one of the biggest mistakes we’ve made strategically after 9/11 was to fail to finish the job here, focus our attention here. We got distracted by Iraq.
“And despite what the Bush Administration has argued, I don’t think there’s any doubt that we were distracted from our efforts not only to hunt down al-Qaeda and the Taliban, but also to rebuild this country so that people have confidence that we were to here to stay over the long haul, that we were going to rebuild roads, provide electricity, improve the quality of life for people. And now we have a chance, I think, to correct some of those areas.
“There’s starting to be a broad consensus that it’s time for us to withdraw some of our combat troops out of Iraq, deploy them here in Afghanistan. And I think we have to seize that opportunity. Now’s the time for us to do it.
“I think what’s important for us to do is to begin planning for those brigades now. If we wait until the next administration, it could be a year before we get those additional troops on the ground here in Afghanistan. And I think that would be a mistake. I think the situation is getting urgent enough that we’ve got to start doing something now.
Logan: “What would be a ‘mission accomplished’ for you in Afghanistan?
Obama: “Well, a ‘mission accomplished’ would be that we had stabilized Afghanistan, that the Afghan people are experiencing rising standards of living, that we have made sure that we are disabling al-Qaeda and the Taliban so that they can longer attack Afghanistan, they can no longer engage in attacks against targets of Pakistan, and they can’t target the United States or its allies.”
Logan “Losing is not an option?”
Obama: “Losing is not an option when it comes to al-Qaeda. And it never has been.
As we develop our new strategic goals, we will do so in concert with our friends and allies as together we seek the resources necessary to succeed.
“…if the Afghan government falls to the Taliban – or allows al Qaeda to go unchallenged – that country will again be a base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as they possibly can.”
The insurgency in Afghanistan didn’t just happen overnight and we won’t defeat it overnight. This will not be quick, nor easy. But we must never forget: This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans. So this is not only a war worth fighting. This is a — this is fundamental to the defense of our people.
And going forward, we will constantly adapt to new tactics to stay ahead of the enemy and give our troops the tools and equipment they need to succeed. And at every step of the way, we will assess our efforts to defeat al Qaeda and its extremist allies, and to help the Afghan and Pakistani people build the future that they seek.
And now as public opinion has turned south and his left-wing base continues their chorus of retreat and defeat, President Obama has begun wavering and displaying the perception of weakness.
September 20, 2009, on NBC:
“if supporting the Afghan national government and building capacity for their army and securing certain provinces advances that strategy” of defeating al-Qaeda, “then we’ll move forward. But if it doesn’t, then I’m not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan.”
The generals believed they had Mr. Obama’s commitment to their approach after the policy review last spring. Now the president appears to be distancing himself from his commanders — including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, who testified before Congress last week that more forces would be needed.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Afghanistan is a big issue facing the country right now.
OBAMA: That is a big issue. That’s worth talking about.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You were for a flexible time line in Iraq. Some people now are saying that’s exactly what should happen in Afghanistan if the same conditions hold. Do you agree with that?
OBAMA: Here’s what I think. When we came in, basically, there had been drift in our Afghan strategy. Everybody acknowledges that. And I ordered a top to bottom review. The most important thing I wanted was us to refocus on why we’re there. We’re there because al Qaeda killed 3,000 Americans and we cannot allow extremists who want to do violence to the United States to be able to operate with impunity.
Now, I think we’ve lost — we lost that focus for a while and you started seeing a — a classic case of mission creep where we’re just there and we start taking on a whole bunch of different missions.
I wanted to narrow it. I did order 21,000 additional troops there to make sure that we could secure the election, because I thought that was important. That was before the review was completed. I also said after the election I want to do another review. We’ve just gotten those 21,000 in. General McChrystal, who’s only been there a few months, has done his own assessment.
I am now going to take all this information and we’re going to test whatever resources we have against our strategy, which is if by sending young men and women into harm’s way, we are defeating al Qaeda and — and that can be shown to a skeptical audience, namely me — somebody who is always asking hard questions about deploying troops, then we will do what’s required to keep the American people safe.
I agree with Peter Feaver that the President of the United States should be able to conduct internal deliberations on issues of national security without being Woodwarded through leaks to the media.
Even the perception of a lack of resolve on “staying the course” in Afghanistan will only embolden our enemies there.
“I would characterize the Taliban strategy in very simple terms,” said retired Army Lt. Gen. David Barno. Speaking at the Marine conference on counterinsurgency last Wednesday, Barno, who was the overall commander in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005, and was one of the more competent generals we’ve had there, said the Talibian think that they are winning and that the war is nearly over, and so “their strategy is simply to run out the clock.“
In two television interviews, Mr. Gates argued that the Afghan war was vital to U.S. national security. Laying out a timeline for removing American troops from Afghanistan would be “a strategic mistake” that could embolden al Qaeda and the Taliban, he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
According to the Washington Post, Obama has scheduled at least five meetings with his national security team over the next two weeks to reexamine the strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. When this review is completed, the President should announce his decision in a nationally televised speech. He should explain to the American people what is at stake in Afghanistan, why it is necessary to make continued sacrifices to defeat distant enemies there, and why the war is not only necessary, but winnable. President Obama’s March troop surge has not even been implemented yet.
President Obama needs to demonstrate leadership on Afghanistan, repeating the truths he has spoken in his past speeches on March 27th and again to the Veterans of Foreign Wars on August 17th. He needs to demonstrate he is willing to properly resource the war in Afghanistan as he promised to do so many times during the presidential campaign last year. And he should realize that while the election outcome has not been ideal, it alone should not force the U.S. to pull up stakes in the country. Both the leading presidential candidates, President Hamid Karzai and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, represent broad constituencies that vehemently oppose the Taliban. That is the key point. The U.S. can work with whichever candidate is finally named the winner.
Obama’s statements on Afghanistan at the UN today will likely be interpreted by our allies as a sign that he is beginning to waver in his commitment to finishing the job of stabilizing and securing Afghanistan and preventing it from returning to serving as a safe haven for international terrorists. This is highly unfortunate. Without American leadership on Afghanistan, the entire civilized world will remain hostage to international terrorists intent on attacking innocents at the times and places of their own choosing.
Osama bin Laden, May 1998:
the American soldier was a paper tiger and after a few blows ran in defeat. And America forgot all the hoopla and media propaganda … about being the world leader and the leader of the New World Order, and after a few blows they forgot about this title and left, dragging their corpses and their shameful defeat.”
8 years is just a drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of things. We seem to think 8 years is a long time; but our enemies think in terms of generations. Time ran out for the Bush Administration. The opposition team is still in the game, without term limits. Will the Obama Adminstration pick up the ball, or fumble?
Ultimately, this is a test of wills, resolve, and commitment. Which side wants it more? Which side has the intestinal fortitude to sustain the losses it may take in order to achieve success/victory?
Will our president have the strong leadership it takes to make the tough decisions even when the weathervane of public opinion has turned south? Can he do what’s right, even when that decision is not popular?
American cannot endure another Vietnam. War of Choice or War of Necessity, America should not lose wars. The price of even the perception of an American defeat is too high. We didn’t allow it to happen in Iraq. We should not let it happen in Afghanistan.
One more example of how even the perception of defeat can have drastic consequences and repercussions. From Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower, page 119-20:
There were only nine brothers against one hundred Russian Spetsnaz Special Forces troops, but out of sheer fright and panic in the dense forest, the Russians were unable to make out the number of brothers,” bin Laden related. “All in all, about thirty-five Spetsnaz soldiers and officers were killed, and the rest fled….The morale of the mujahideen soared, not only in our area, but in the whole of Afghanistan.”
He had achieved his greatest victory immediately following his worst defeat.
The entire action lasted three weeks. It was waged by more by Sayyaf (who then took over the Lion’s Den) than bin Laden, but the Arabs gained a reputation for courage and recklessness that established their legend, at least among themselves. Their guesthouses quietly reopened i Peshawar. From the Soviet perspective, the battle of the Lion’s Den was a small moment in the tactical retreat from Afghanistan. In the heightened religious atmosphere among the men following bin Laden, however, there was a dizzying sense that they were living in a supernatural world, in which reality knelt before faith. For them, the encounter at the Lion’s Den became the foundation for the myth that they defeated the superpower. Within a few years the entire Soviet empire fell to pieces- dead of the wound the Muslims inflicted in Afghanistan, the jihadis believed. By then they had created the vanguard that was to carry the battle forward. Al-Qaeda was conceived in the marriage of these assumptions. Faith is stronger than weapons or nations, and the ticket to enter the sacred zone where such miracles occur is the willingness to die.
*UPDATE II* 10/04/09 15:50
“War of necessity” versus “war of choice” was a meme you heard a lot from Democrats when George W. Bush was president, and one you’re not likely to hear if Obama decides not to fight the “war of necessity” in the way the general he carefully selected says is necessary. Another meme we often heard was that we should rely more on military help from our allies. The argument was that Bush had so antagonized our allies that we were not getting from them military assistance which could have reduced the number of American military personnel in Iraq or Afghanistan.
This meme never made much sense. We had more than 30 allies providing military assistance in Iraq at some time or another, and the operations in Afghanistan have long been a NATO rather than just an American exercise. The problem is that not many of our allies can provide very much, quantitatively, in military assistance. Britain and France have significant out-of-area military forces, and other nations have provided very effective troops—Poland and Australia, Italy and Canada come to mind. But not in huge numbers. My guesstimate is that the United States has something like 50 or 60 percent of the out-of-area military capacity in the world, depending on what aspects of military force you are talking about. Moreover, some nations impose very restrictive rules of engagement on their militaries, as Germany has in Afghanistan for instance. It’s great to have the support of other nations, but there are limits on what they can do. Britain has been a stalwart ally in Afghanistan, and despite problems there its Foreign Secretary David Milliband is calling for more troops there. But Canada will be withdrawing its troops.
So it’s been interesting to see that in the debate over what should be done in Afghanistan, none of the Democrats opposed to sending more U.S. troops seem to be saying we should be getting troops from our allies instead. With George W. Bush gone, with the limits of what other nations can do painfully apparent, with the realization (the latest lesson was delivered at Copenhagen by the International Olympic Committee) that the charm of Barack Obama does not overwhelm all other considerations in other nations’ decisions, the cry of “more help from the allies” is no longer heard. Like the distinction between “wars of choice” and “wars of necessity,” it was never a serious argument but just an example of cheap partisan rhetoric.