National Review Online asked some eminent foreign-policy experts to assess President Obama’s speech regarding U.S. policy on Afghanistan.
Jamie M. Fly After bucking political pressure from his base and sending a surge of forces to Afghanistan in December 2009, President Obama now appears to have finally succumbed to that pressure, now bolstered by some on the right who are skeptical of the prospects for success in Afghanistan. President Obama and other administration officials have justified his announced drawdown in forces by citing the gains made and the success achieved in attacking and disrupting al-Qaeda. It is true that the surge has resulted in significant gains over the last 18 months. But as General Petraeus and other military leaders have repeatedly emphasized, these gains are fragile and reversible.
In his effort to bring the full complement of the surge home by the end of next summer, the president is putting this progress at risk and raising the specter of a return to the under-resourced and unsuccessful strategy we followed in the years after the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001.
By coupling this preemptive drawdown with meaningless rhetoric about “nation building at home” and other coded appeals to critics on both the left and the right who are weary of war and tempted to turn their backs on Afghanistan and other international challenges, the president appears to be returning to his progressive foreign-policy roots just in time for November 2012. Despite the president’s new tone, America is still at risk and our Afghan and coalition allies continue to look to America for leadership.
Last night’s announcement should give pause to those Republicans who have been tempted to criticize the president from the left and exploit growing foreign-policy fatigue in the country. They should now think instead about making the case for renewed American leadership, because an unwillingness to lead is becoming the hallmark of the presidency of Barack Obama and one of his greatest vulnerabilities.
— Jamie M. Fly is executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative.
John Hannah Anyone else feel like they need a shower? The stench of politics was all over this speech. From start to finish, the president’s timetable for troop withdrawal appears driven by the need to appease his liberal base and secure reelection in November 2012. It was a more or less complete dissing of the recommendation of his field commander — whose strategy is largely responsible for the progress the president claimed — as well as the rest of the country’s senior military leadership. It’s hard to find any serious analyst ready to take the bet that Obama is making, i.e., that Afghan forces will be capable in 2012 of preserving the fragile gains won by the U.S. surge, or in 2014 of securing the entire country on their own. Of course, the president’s explicit timetable worsens the odds even further, sending an unambiguous signal that America’s march to the exits has begun, irrespective of the situation on the ground. Our Afghan friends — the very forces we expect to fill the void created by our drawdown — will be badly demoralized by what they heard, while our enemies in the Taliban and al-Qaeda will be rightly buoyed, convinced that they can wait us out and achieve their long-term goal of retaking power.
Time to focus on nation building at home, indeed: echoes of George McGovern’s “Come home America.” It didn’t work then. No matter how it was gussied up, the American people knew weakness and retreat when they saw it. Will the gambit fare any better 40 years later?
A commander-in-chief who prefers to speak of “ending wars responsibly” rather than achieving victory has just taken an enormously risky gamble on a national-security issue that he himself once identified as vital to American interests. We should all pray that his luck holds out.
— John Hannah, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, was national-security adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney.