Thursday, November 12, 2009

Obama Again Delays Decision On Afghanistan

How much longer can President Obama delay making a decision on sending additional troops to Afghanistan - or indeed any adjustment in troop levels in the Afghan theater of operations?

He's allowed months to pass to allow his national security team put together options for him. Those recommendations suggested building up the number of troops by 40,000 - a surge. The President rejected those options, and is instead saying that he will now make a decision within the next couple of weeks.

It is real lonely at the top.

His continued delays and obfuscations as to what he intends to do on Afghan troop levels suggests serious indecision and while some will try to spin this as thoughtful consideration, the inability to take decisive action in a timely fashion (it's been months since he promised to review the troop level issue, and Afghan options overall) can have serious repercussions on the battlefield and affect readiness and combat effectiveness because troops aren't there that could help repel Taliban advances in parts of the country.

Make no mistake, the indecision is something that our nation's enemies are studying closely and they will exploit them. It's what enemies do. They aren't going to sit back and wait; they're going to put their plans into action because they see an indecisive leader who is more than willing to defer and talk to enemies and restrain allies than support allies in a global conflict that seeks to attack US and its allies strategic and tactical interests.

Then candidate Obama tried to sell the nation before the election on the idea that he was willing to fight the war in Afghanistan because it was the good fight; that we had taken the ball off fighting al Qaeda by going into Iraq, etc.

Now, the delays and indecision, and refusal to order troop increases (or make any statement to troop levels) suggests that he is not willing to put his money where his mouth was and reveals himself once again to have put an expiration date on his promises and statements.

Where are the principled stands we've been told he has? If sending more troops is a political decision, so too is withdrawing; so too is ceding a battlefield where al Qaeda and its allies in the Taliban are busy operating. Al Qaeda and the Taliban remain threats to US national security and strategic and tactical interests, and yet the President appears unwilling to commit more troops to root out this persistent threat.

Not only do al Qaeda and the Taliban pose an ongoing threat to the US and our allies, but they remain a constant threat to Afghanistan and Pakistan as well. President Obama's dithering is allowing the Taliban time and space in which to operate. If it is a matter of not having troop numbers because the military is overburdened (and that's despite the military being arranged to fight two simultaneous wars), that can be addressed by growing the size of the military (and yes, that's a jobs program I think many would support since it actually goes to national defense and a core function of the federal government).

The President's actions - and inaction in this instance - have international repercussions. It appears that the White House isn't fully aware of the implications of their actions and how it can affect our allies and enemies alike. Requesting information on an exit strategy is a political question, not a military or strategic one that is in the nation's long term interests. It is one that shows that political considerations are likely to trump prudent military needs, even if the final outcome is a troop increase. Appearances are important, and the White House again doesn't fully comprehend the importance of a timely decision making process.

President Obama would be wise to take heed of a lesson learned by President Truman about decisiveness and taking a stand on issues, particularly on foreign policy. Truman was opposed by members of his own State Department, and yet Truman made bold policy decisions - recognizing Israel's independence being but one. That was despite vigorous opposition from the State Department at a time when the Cold War was heating up and the European theater was being divided by the Iron Curtain and George Kennan and others were pushing for a containment strategy. Against that backdrop, it would have been easy for Truman to fold and pursue a strategy of assenting to British and Arab wishes to limit Jewish immigration to what would become Israel because it would maintain US ties to Arab oil reserves. Truman didn't do what was easy; he did what was moral, just, and right.

Requesting information about an exit strategy points to the political expediency sought rather than pursuing tangible goals. Fighting a war is the toughest thing a President can undertake and it is not a decision made lightly. President Obama has to forgo the easy and do what is moral, just, and right. That means committing to the US efforts in Afghanistan to stabilize the country and thwart and defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda; it means providing support for Pakistani efforts to do the same and walking a tightrope on how to provide that support without destabilizing the Pakistani government, which has a huge extremist problem.

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