What’s tragic about President Obama’s decision to dispatch tens of thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan is that even the president knows, I am sure, that escalation won’t work. But the president is playing it safe, adding forces while broadly describing a medium-term exit strategy. Rather than throw the tank into reverse, the ever-cautious, politically careful Obama is executing a long, drawn-out, 180-degree turn that will probably take two or three years to execute.
Contrary to some analysts on the left who see Obama’s plan as a Vietnam-style escalation, I see it as an unfortunate escalation feint while looking to the exit. Unfortunate, because a lot of Afghans (and quite a few Americans) will die in the process.
Briefed in advance about Obama’s Tuesday night address, the New York Times reports today:
“President Obama plans to lay out a time frame for winding down the American involvement in the war in Afghanistan when he announces his decision this week to send more forces, senior administration officials said Sunday.”
Adds the paper:
“The officials would not disclose the time frame. But they said it would not be tied to particular conditions on the ground nor would it be as firm as the current schedule for withdrawing troops in Iraq, where Mr. Obama has committed to withdrawing most combat units by August and all forces by the end of 2011.”
In other words, Obama’s exit timetable won’t depend on whether the US is “winning” the war or whether the Afghan army is ready to take over. On the other hand, it won’t be a firm schedule, so in fact it’s possible that the war might be dragged out much longer than Obama envisions. Meanwhile, he’s sending up to 30,000 forces, whose arrival will be staggered — i.e., not all at once — and no doubt many of those troops will be described as trainers of the no-account Afghan National Army and police.
Obama may or may not say so explicitly, but the way out has to involve a negotiated deal with the main insurgent force, the Taliban, and its allies, possibly including the disreputable warlord, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, along with their sponsors in the Pakistani military and its intelligence service, the ISI. Our erstwhile allies in Europe are already saying so.