Indecision in Afghanistan Costs Lives

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Last week, upon arriving in Copenhagen for his failed mission to secure the 2016 Olympic Games for Chicago, President Barack Obama met face-to-face with U.S. and NATO Forces Commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal on Air Force One. The meeting was just the second conversation between the two since Gen. McChrystal assumed command of what President Obama used to call the “central front in our enduring struggle against terrorism.” Just days before, while responding to questions about his recommendation for 40,000 more troops, Gen. McChrystal told the International Institute for Strategic Studies, “Waiting does not prolong a favorable outcome. This effort will not remain winnable indefinitely, nor will public support.”

President Obama’s advisers were “shocked and angered” by “the bluntness” of McChrystal’s speech with one White House source offering: “People aren’t sure whether McChrystal is being naïve or an upstart. To my mind he doesn’t seem ready for this Washington hard-ball and is just speaking his mind too plainly.” McChrystal may not know Washington politics, but he has impeccable credentials when it comes to military strategy. And on military strategy, Gen. McChrystal also said this last week:

I absolutely believe that al Qaeda and the threat of al Qaeda and Taliban senior leadership are critical to stability in the region…But I also believe that a strategy that does not leave Afghanistan in a stable position is probably a shortsighted strategy.

Gen. McChrystal is far from the only thinker to come to that conclusion. British Army Chief of the General Staff Gen. Sir David Richards told The Sunday Telegraph:

If al-Qaeda and the Taliban believe they have defeated us – what next? Would they stop at Afghanistan? Pakistan is clearly a tempting target not least because of the fact that it is a nuclear-weaponed state and that is a terrifying prospect. Even if only a few of those (nuclear) weapons fell into their hands, believe me they would use them. The recent airlines plot has reminded us that there are people out there who would happily blow all of us up.

Former CentCom Commander Gen. Anthony Zinni told Face the Nation:

I think we have to be careful how long this goes on. It– it could be seen not only out there in the region by our allies even as the enemy as being indecisive–unable to make a decision. We’ve had a strategy since March. We have a general out there who is probably the best qualified we could have that’s telling us what we need on the ground to have the security space and the time to get those non-military things done. And I just don’t understand why we’re questioning that judgment at this point and I hope this doesn’t go on much longer.

British Shadow Defense Secretary Dr. Liam Fox told Heritage last month:

Were we to lose and be forced out of Afghanistan against our will, it would be a shot in the arm for every jihadist globally. It would send out the signal that we did not have the moral fortitude to see through what we believe to be a national security emergency. It would suggest that NATO, in its first great challenge since the end of the Cold War, did not have what it takes to see a difficult challenge through.

Chair of the House Armed Services Committee Ike Skelton (D-MO) told Face the Nation:

That’s the purpose of this entire mission. To quell the al Qaeda and to make sure that the Taliban is not there to invite them back. The war really didn’t start until March of this year when the president came forth with a strategy, frankly an excellent strategy. He chose General McChrystal who is the best in the business for this type of conflict. He asked General McChrystal for an assessment. He got that assessment. Of course that became known … it was public. And in essence he’s going to be asking for additional resources. … I back him up. I sent a letter to the president a number of days ago spelling out in great detail – some six pages of a letter – spelling out basically ‘Give the general what he needs.’

And Henry Kissinger writes in Newsweek:

The demand for an exit strategy is, of course, a metaphor for withdrawal, and withdrawal that is not accompanied by a willingness to sustain the outcome amounts to abandonment. Even so-called realists—like me—would gag at a tacit U.S. cooperation with the Taliban in the governance of Afghanistan.

Those in the chain of command in Afghanistan, each with outstanding qualifications, have all been recently appointed by the Obama administration. Rejecting their recommendations would be a triumph of domestic politics over strategic judgment.

The domestic politics are clear. MoveOn.org is asking their members to sign a petition calling for “a clear military exit strategy” and in the House, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) has introduce a bill co-sponsored with 21 member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus that would prohibit an increase of troops in Afghanistan.

President Obama must ignore this pressure from his leftist base and give his military commanders the best chance for success by meeting their requests for the troops and resources necessary to fully implement the counterinsurgency strategy that his administration adopted in March. As General McChrystal warned: “We must show resolve. Uncertainty disheartens our allies, emboldens our foe.” President Obama must take the long view and avoid short-sighted policies that undermine our friends in Afghanistan and Pakistan, while encouraging our enemies.

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