Dance With the Partner You Came With

Ross Mackenzie
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Posted: Dec 03, 2009 12:01 AM
Dance With the Partner You Came With

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.

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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.

You told our nation's finest -- the men and women of our armed forces -- they will bleed and die not for victory in Afghanistan but for an exit strategy, for the endgame you and your gauzy leftist ideologues deemed lacking in Iraq, for a way out. For retreat. Will you dare call it surrender?

The commander you appointed, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has warned of "mission failure" without as many as 80,000 troops, a minimum of 40,000. You have authorized three-quarters of his requested minimum, or 30,000. Lincoln had his McClellan, who wouldn't fight, and finally found -- in Grant -- the sort of general he needed. You are blessed to have in McChrystal a latter-day Grant, but does he have, in you, a Lincoln in reverse? If this surge fails, will you blame Gen. McChrystal and the nation's fighting forces for your lack of grit?

IN YOUR West Point lecture, you dismissed comparisons of Afghanistan to Vietnam. You did not mention this history regarding corruption, viable regimes, and surges:

(1) Mikhail Gorbachev inherited a war in Afghanistan, authorized a surge, and was tucking tail in 18 months.

(2) You and some of your heavy strategic thinkers -- Vice President Biden, Sen. Kerry, Mesdames Clinton and Pelosi -- have deplored corruption in the Karzai government and loudly hungered for a "credible" Afghan partner. (Wasn't it just yesterday that you and some of those same heavyweights, regarding Iraq, were hungering for a Karzai?) But it was ever so: Maliki in Iraq, Diem and Thieu in Vietnam, Rhee in Korea. You need to dance with the partner you came with.

(3) In 1973, following the failure of the McNamara-Johnson policy of incrementalism in Vietnam, Congress cut off funds for the American enterprise there. The South Vietnamese government, a credible partner, soon fell to the Communists -- and the people with it. Here's hoping your policy of incrementalism does not lead to the political micromanagement, diminished will, and funding cut-off in Afghanistan that lost Vietnam.

XXX

The fundamental question regarding Afghanistan goes to your dedication to victory, your resolve to see it through. If you shed your Hamlet-like indecision for a laser-like commitment, you might first win the people -- both here and in Afghanistan -- and then win the war. Any other outcome in Afghanistan, and the jihadists there and across the globe will have our lunch.