(Herschel Smith) – The speech was ghastly, dreary, dreadful and morose, full of wishful thinking and blame of others for the situation we now face. Obama seemed to be unable to stay focused on Afghanistan, appeared bored with the subject, and even seemed a bit peeved that he had to deliver such a speech.
The first part of the speech rehashed information that most people alive today already know, and then proceeded to place the blame on Operation Iraqi Freedom for the low troop levels in Afghanistan. That Generals McNeill and McKiernan requested more troops for the campaign in Afghanistan is true, but at least McKiernan’s desires were made known during Obama’s tenure. Even this doesn’t fully explain how the situation in Iraq related to Afghanistan.
During much of the time from 2004 (around the time of Operation al Fajr) to 2007, thousands of religiously motivated foreign fighters (AQ) flowed into Iraq per year to fight the U.S. forces. These are fighters that didn’t go to Afghanistan because they were headed for Iraq. Whatever else one thinks of the initial invasion of Iraq, the subsequent counterinsurgency phases (Operation Iraqi Freedom II and III) were the center of gravity of the fight against religious globalists (even though we had to fight our way through an indigenous insurgency in Iraq to get to AQ, this insurgency being somewhat less committed to the religious cause of AQ). To blame the situation in Afghanistan entirely on Iraq just doesn’t comport with the facts.
Slow to give up the finger-pointing even though he chides us for failing to do the same, Obama eventually transitions to his strategy. He does mention population centers and securing the population (and Kandahar will be a big focus of the effort). But he insisted that the cornerstone of the strategy was turnover to Afghan Security Forces, and couples this insistence with the strangest of demands: that U.S. troops begin leaving Afghanistan in 2011.
I have repeatedly claimed that seeing the population as the center of gravity of a counterinsurgency is doctrinal intransigence and stubbornness, and that multiple foci should be pursued in small wars, including an enemy-centric focus if that is deemed wise at some particular point in a campaign (such as early on). But if Obama has been listening to his generals (and it sounds as if he has, at least to some degree), it would explain the focus on population centers and startup of the Afghan Security Forces. Obama insists on placing the burden on the ANA and ANP, and sooner rather than later.
So assuming that Obama has selected population-centric counterinsurgency as his strategy, he certainly doesn’t appear to understand exactly what that entails. We have been training the ANA and ANP for eight years now, and had Provincial Reconstruction Teams deployed throughout Afghanistan for years. Army human terrain teams have studied the tribes, agricultural experts have advised and counseled Afghan farmers, and U.S. Soldiers and Marines now must be aligned with Afghan Army in order to conduct operations.
Yet in the Afghan Security Forces, drug addiction continues, they sleep on duty, they refuse in cases to go on night patrols, they have proven to be generally inept and unreliable in fire fights, and the Afghan people hate the corruption within their ranks. Training up an Afghan Army is not about teaching them to fire a weapon or go on patrol. Instilling esprit de corps, reliability, commitment and faithfulness is not about thirteen weeks or even a year of basic training. It’s about a culture, country and social and religious milieu that can sustain such an institution.
Pointing to an end date for troop presence is the height of irresponsibility. It’s either an intentional lie (in which case he is a liar and the troops’ families have false hope for and end date), or it’s the truth, in which case he clearly has confused ideas on just how long counterinsurgency takes to succeed – if it can succeed at all.
Finally, the speech wanders off into foreign territory by discussing the use of soft power to end the threat of nuclear weapons. The claim is that work to end nuclear proliferation will enhance national security, but thus far the only change to nuclear weapons has been on the American side. The Russians have now been invited to examine our nuclear weapons installations, and nuclear warhead refurbishment (strongly recommended by the DoD and DOE) has been denied and de-funded. All the while, Iran insists that its very own nuclear program is non-negotiable.
I was recently at a funeral where I had a chance to speak with four World War II veterans at one ad hoc gathering. Upon hearing that my son was in the U.S. Marine Corps, they conveyed their heart felt thanks to both him and me. They had battled the Japanese in the South Pacific and the Germans in Europe. But they knew what we face. They used the phrase “long war,” and they didn’t know who John Abizaid was. They simply knew that we were in a long war – the longest one our republic would ever face, and much longer than the one they faced.
U.S. industry fabricated some 55,000 Sherman tanks to prosecute World War II. Our industry is being shut down due to all manner of issues, including environmental regulations. Large scale steel fabrication is now done primarily overseas, and the current administration cannot bear the thought of deploying fewer American warriors to Afghanistan than tanks we deployed during World War II.
Afghanistan matters. The Durand line means nothing to al Qaeda and their supporters, the Taliban. Pakistan, whom the U.S. very much wants to focus on its internal threats rather than India, awaits our own intentions. Pressure must be kept on AQ and the Taliban on both sides of the alleged border, because there is no border. While Pakistan awaits our direction, so does most of Europe.
With the current leadership unable to make a case for troop presence beyond 2011, we are poorly prepared indeed for the battle ahead. I missed the initial speech and had to take it in later, but my daughter told me that it was ghastly, dreary and dreadful. She was right. It would have been better if it had never been made.
(Mr. Smith publishes the Captains Journal blog on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan)