Obama is cutting troop levels and reducing spending. Little wonder the Taliban, their Pakistani supporters and, for that matter, many Afghanis who do support the U.S. and NATO mission believe Obama is preparing to desert Afghanistan in 2014.
Perhaps he is. More likely, he doesn't know. The withdrawal timetable was a 2012 election gimmick designed to pre-empt criticism from Vietnam-syndrome "antiwar" Democrats. The March 2012 massacre, however, has ignited cries for immediate retreat and abandonment.
We heard this in 2004, with the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal -- a rough equivalent to 2012's massacre. Abu Ghraib involved a dozen soldiers, not a lone actor, but then no one was murdered at Abu Ghraib. The scandal harmed the U.S. effort in Iraq, for it shook Iraqi confidence in America's moral commitment to build a just society governed by the rule of law. The Bush administration court-martialed the criminals and continued with the mission. President George W. Bush, in particular, never wavered in his personal commitment to the Iraq mission. And America's friends and enemies knew he meant it.
The March massacre gives Obama the opportunity to demonstrate he has comparable grit. Obama claims the U.S. will withdraw "responsibly," which is a fine word, and the U.S. will meet its "objectives," another good word. Deeds, however, must support the words. Halting or reducing 2012's planned troop withdrawals, in consultation with the Afghan government, would demonstrate that he is willing to sacrifice personal political needs to addressing changing battlefield conditions.
Democrats, to include Obama, reaped tactical political benefit from a mean little ditty about George Bush and Iraq. "Bush lied, people died" was the phrase. Should the Taliban return, a far crueler and more accurate doggerel will brand the Obama administration's legacy: "Obama fled -- and left our Afghan allies for dead."
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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