I watched Obama's West Point speech last night, in which he stated and attempted to justify his decision to send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. It was beautifully written, eloquently delivered, and utterly incoherent. Let me explain.
The premise of the speech is that the presence of Al Qaida in safe havens on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border is a threat to the national security of the United States sufficient to demand military action. His brief and formulaic defense of this thesis was a citation of 9/11 and the statement that in the past several months, the United States has foiled efforts on American soil to mount new terrorist attacks. Let us, for the sake of argument, grant the premise [although I believe that it is gravely flawed and, as stated, untrue.] As President and Commander in Chief, Obama said, he has a constitutional duty to respond to this threat.
The response will consist of sending 30,00 additional troops, starting early in the new year, whose mission, along with the troops already in Afghanistan, will be three-fold: To reverse the Taliban military advances that have placed the present government and the American troops in an eroding and defensive military position; to train Afghan security forces so that they can themselves deal with the Taliban; and to disrupt Al Qaida by putting additional pressure on their borderland safe havens, this last in cooperation with Pakistan.
And in 18 months we will begin the orderly withdrawal of our troops.
Say what? if the presence of Al Qaida in the border areas is a threat to our national security now, then their presence in those areas in eighteen months, should they still be there, will STILL be a threat to our national security. If disrupting them [not killing them, note, or defeating them, or wiping them out, note] is an appropriate response to this threat to our national security now, then it will be an appropriate response for as long as they remain relatively well-organized and protected in those areas. How then can Obama possibly decide, now, to withdraw in eighteen months?
Fine words and an eloquent delivery cannot remove the contradiction at the heart of this new policy.
But the premise is flawed and the inference from the premise is inconsequent. Al Qaida is not a threat to our national security, at least as that term used to be used. Al Qaida is not capable of mounting an attack on the United States. It is capable, as it has shown, of carrying out terrorist attacks on U. S. soil, one of which, unpredictably, was hideously successful. I say unpredictably because the planners of that coordinated attack did not themselves expect that the twin towers would be totally destroyed. The death toll that day was 3,000. That is roughly a third of the number of people who die each day in America. The economic effect on America was small enough to make virtually no impact on national income statistics. Not to put too fine an edge on it, the damage done to America by Goldman Sachs and AIG was immeasurably greater. Each year, fifteen times as many people die in the United States because they are medically uninsured. The appropriate response to Al Qaida is steady, sophisticated, unrelenting anti-terrorism police work, both at home and abroad, of the sort that Great Britain for many years mounted against the IRA [never mind the rights and wrongs of that matter].
Will Obama's three-pronged strategy work? Of course not! The increase in American forces will inflict a number of defeats on the Taliban, but they have been devastated before and they are still there. Does anyone think they will not be there in eighteen months? The efforts to "train Afghan security forces" will fail. Why? Because their inability to enforce the central government's will in Afghanistan is not a result of inadequate training. The Taliban have had no training at all, nor have they been the recipients lately of American weapons [they were, of course, armed and in effect brought into existence by America during the Russian occupation, but that is another matter, and best forgotten.] Will the Kharzai government end corruption? of course not. What we call corruption is the way in which public affairs are organized in Afghanistan. Oh, some cosmetic changes will be made. Hillary Clinton will yell at Kharzai a bit. But does anyone suppose there will be a fundamental and irreversible change in the way Afghans do business, in eighteen months? To ask the question is to answer it.
This is now Obama's war. And it will be the downfall of his presidency, even though I fully expect that he will be re-elected in 2012.