In the past few days, the White House has made it clear that the president wants specific exit strategies for all his Afghan war options. That brought to mind the advice -- from almost a century ago -- of an American geopolitician describing the only exit strategy worth considering: "Over there, over there,
Send the word, send the word over there,
That the Yanks are coming, the Yanks are coming,
The drums rum-tumming everywhere.
So prepare, say a prayer,
Send the word, send the word to beware,
We'll be over, we're coming over,
And we won't come back till it's over over there."
The geopolitician in question was, of course, that great Irish-American, Tin Pan Alley's own George M. Cohan. And by quoting his lyrics to World War I's most popular song, I don't mean to be frivolous. But millions of young men were prepared to risk their lives -- to not come back till it was over over there -- because they were called to fight for something our nation considered vital. Those farm boys didn't know about foreign policy, but they trusted their parents and their leaders not to send them off for no good reason.
Hearing the president's request for exit strategies at the beginning of what would be "his" Afghan war -- and thinking of our young troops, 18, 19, 20, 21 years old, who have volunteered to risk their lives for America -- how on God's good earth can we ask those wonderful kids to risk dying for an exit strategy?
I have heard from a few of them, and they are game to make a fight of it, if their country believes it's necessary. Of course, they will obey all their orders and commands. But what a cold and heartless command -- to send our generation's "Yanks" off to risk their young lives just to prepare to retreat (i.e., exit).
The administration is making its intentions quite clear. Over the weekend, top Obama administration officials went on television to "lower the bar for success" in Afghanistan, stressing that the administration is seeking an exit strategy and holds "no illusions" (Fox News).
"We have no illusions. This is not the prior days, when people would come on your show and talk about how we were going to help the Afghans build a modern democracy and build a more functioning state and do all of these wonderful things," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told ABC's "This Week."
On another Sunday show, the president's top political adviser, David Axelrod, explained: "Obviously, we cannot make an open-ended commitment. And we want to do this in a way that maximizes our efforts against al-Qaida but within the framework of bringing our troops home at some point."
And we have to watch our pennies. The New York Times reported Saturday, "While President Obama's decision about sending more troops to Afghanistan is primarily a military one, it also has substantial budget implications that are adding pressure to limit the commitment, senior administration officials say."
Even the great George M. could not write a song that would give life and passion and hope to such flatulent, cynical comments.
Three months ago in this space, I wrote: "President Barack Obama is on the cusp of a fateful policy decision. He has argued consistently that the war in Afghanistan is necessary to deny al-Qaida a base of terrorist operations and to stop the Taliban insurrection from destabilizing nuclear Pakistan. ... (But) even the optimists believe that a successful counterinsurgency in Afghanistan (and needed as much in Pakistan) will require several years of sustained commitment, with substantially more men and materiel. ... To have a reasonable chance at success, President Obama will have to sustain the effort for years, which will require him to be at least as determined and stubborn on behalf of this war as former President George W. Bush was in fighting the Iraq war."
Now -- three agonizing, rationalizing, equivocating, twisting, turning months of White House squirming later -- even a blind man could see that this president and this White House staff do not have the stomach to continue the war in Afghanistan. They are trying to avoid it. They don't want to fight it. They think they have great things to do here at home. They know they don't have anything they want to do in Afghanistan.
If the Taliban and al-Qaida retake Afghanistan, the world (and America) will have hell to pay for the consequences. But this president and this White House do not have it in them to lead our troops to victory in Afghanistan. So they shouldn't try. The price will be high for whatever foreign policy failures we will endure in the next three years. Let's not add to that price the pointless murder of our finest young troops in a war their leader does not believe in.
Bring them home. We'll need them later.