I actually have a lot of sympathy for the president in this awful predicament, which he did indeed inherit, and which might not have been so awful if his predecessor had pursued a better Afghanistan policy. There are plenty of leaders in both parties who are tired of the whole business, and he can’t just ignore that. The president is right to worry about corruption in the Karzai government, to doubt that a wilderness like Afghanistan can ever truly be tamed, and to count the cost in lives and money.
But I have more sympathy for the 30,000 men and women who deployed, fought and suffered through a never-to-be-completed surge, and the 70,000 men and women who are supposed to stick it out during the pending Afghanization phase of this conflict.
This is what comes of constantly seeking a middle ground in war, a comfortable, calbrated path between going all out and getting all out. I thought we had already learned, in Vietnam and a hundred other places, that it’s wrong to prolong war on that basis. It is wrong to ask our soldiers – let alone those of our allies or the people of Afghanistan — to risk their lives so that an uncertain government can hedge its bets. At least I’m pretty sure that’s what Sherman would have thought.
We’ll find out soon enough whether Obama has indeed retreated to a more defensible line – or simply granted a near-beaten enemy a new lease on life, of the kind Sherman refused the rebels at Atlanta. I hope for the former but fear the latter. When he was still alive, Osama bin Laden said that the U.S. bug-out from Somalia in 1994 proved that our soldiers were “paper tigers.” He bragged that “Muslims will be able to end the legend of the so-called superpower that is America,” just as the Afghan mujahideen had brought down the Soviet Union. Bin Laden is dead now, but many around the world will read Obama’s speech last night as posthumous vindication for the terrorist. That’s dangerous.