In response to President Obama's West Point lecture on Afghanistan, a lecture back....
Sir, a rhetoric teacher or debate judge might grade your remarks this way: well delivered but poorly reasoned.
You have embraced precisely the sort of surge for Afghanistan that you vehemently opposed for Iraq. Yet, as on March 17 when you authorized 21,000 additional troops after (you said) "a careful policy review," you failed to deploy the word victory -- victory being what the surge achieved in Iraq. At West Point, you used "a successful conclusion" "a responsible end," even (omigosh!) "defeat." If you truly want to bring the Afghans to your side, as well as an American people big on winning, you will do well to add victory to your vocabulary.
You should move beyond your obsessive blame of your predecessor, and recognize the war as now yours. It is particularly so with your authorization of 51,000 U.S. troops for Afghanistan since your inauguration (21,000 in March plus 30,000 Tuesday night) -- more than half the 100,000 who will be there in July, 2011, when you have stipulated you will begin to move them out.
Why? Why give the enemy a date certain? Why tell al Qaeda and the Taliban, who are notoriously patient, that they need lie low for only another 18 months? Is it because President Bush refused to do it in either Afghanistan or Iraq? Is it because John McCain, singularly right about the surge in Iraq, also had it right following your West Point lecture: The way you win wars is to break the enemy's will, not to announce dates that you are leaving? Why provide a timeline when your own secretary of defense -- in two September interviews -- termed any timeline for withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan a strategic mistake?
DURING your campaign, you referred to Afghanistan as the good war, in contrast with the presumably bad Bush-Cheney war in Iraq. Addressing the Veterans of Foreign Wars on August 17, you termed Afghanistan a war of necessity -- evidently in contrast with the Bush-Cheney war of choice in Iraq.
Yet at West Point, you told the cadets that they and their fellow men and women at arms will risk their blood and their lives in a war whose goodness and "necessity" will end 18 months from now so you can move forward with your wars of choice to -- among other things -- close Guantanamo and prosecute its jihadists in civilian courts, end don't-ask-don't-tell, raise taxes, combat global warming, and shove socialized medicine down the nation's throat like broccoli.
Ross Mackenzie lives with his wife and Labrador retriever in the woods west of Richmond, Virginia. They have two grown sons, both Naval officers.
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