As President Obama contemplates the strategy in Afghanistan, the political debate in Washington has gone viral. The usual suspects — Bob Herbert, Eugene Robinson, and even George Will — have come out with opinion pieces on why the troops should abandon the mission in Afghanistan.
However, what each of them fails to realize is that the strategy General Stanley McChrystal articulated when arriving in the country has barely had a chance to take shape after several years of failure. Furthermore, the additional 6,000 troops he initially requested have yet to arrive. It would behoove the president to give the commander on the ground the chance to succeed before pulling the rug from underneath him.
The Democrats on the Hill are also pounding their fists to depart and dissolve our commitment to the Afghan people. It is understandable that Americans question our mission in a country that has not done enough to help itself. The Afghanistan National Army is a failure, and many of the local troops who sign up are never to be seen after receiving uniforms. A testament to General McChrystal’s commitment is his resolve to realign the Afghanistan National Security Forces, which the Army falls under, to better train the Afghans to fight their own battles. There are several key law enforcement-mentored units fighting the Taliban narcotic networks that McChrystal wants to replicate to engage insurgents wreaking havoc on the local populace.
The strategy advocated by Vice President Biden is the same tired old policy of counter-terrorism that allowed Afghanistan to be a safe haven for al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The terror drone strikes he advocates for are turning the people living along the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan against our efforts. Also, it is obvious that a lot of funding for the insurgency comes from Pakistan; however, relying solely on Special Forces to protect the civilians from insurgents in populated areas is difficult. The advice of the vice president was rejected earlier and should be again. With his penchant for ridiculous remarks and hasty decisions, no serious policy maker should give his thoughts serious consideration.
I have seen firsthand how General McChrystal is attempting to correct a strategy and structure that was ill-equipped for the mission at hand. I have often wondered why the former commanders of the ground war here are lauded back in Washington, D.C., and in think tanks. From the massive work going on in infrastructure and training, I am unclear what was done the first few years of our time on the ground here. It is becoming clear that with a shift in attention from Iraq to Afghanistan, better resources are now arriving in this mountainous and landlocked country.
President Obama, when asked about Afghanistan, said: “Are we pursuing the right strategy?” He went on to say that he didn’t want the cart to get ahead of the horse. Well, he has been in office for over eight months, and should have been focused enough to sit down with his national security team to strategize about an issue where Americans are risking their lives every day. It is apparent that since the assessment was leaked to reporter Bob Woodward, it has been the buzz from D.C. to Kabul (amongst the coalition personnel). The question on the minds of most personnel is whether the president will abide by his commitment to the counterinsurgency strategy he made in March.
President Obama has shown a pattern of disconnect with his foreign policy, including his minimal comments on the Iranian elections while there still are massive protests in the streets of Tehran. Iranian young men and women risked much to walk against the ruthless regime, and he stood by and said nothing. He has not taken a stand against former President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras, who was ousted by the people for violating their constitution, while the leftists of South America have been rallying for his return. It would support the cause of democracy in the Americas to denounce his attempts to return to power or call for fair elections.
General McChrystal should be given the time, resources, and support he needs to succeed. He is a proven expert on counterinsurgency and he has been given a daunting task to transform a populace with little education and infrastructure into a self-sustaining sovereign nation. To make matters worse, the most recent election was seen by many Afghans as fraudulent. The morale of the troops on the ground would turn sour if the president were to turn his back on the support he promised before.
Time to stop campaigning, Mr. President, and to start leading.