If you read Part I, after the President’s West Point speech a year-and-a-half ago, you knew what he was going to say last night. If there weren’t so many lives of our best young people at stake, it would be faintly amusing to listen to the mainstream media commentary about how Obama’s strategy just might be political rather than designed to achieve military success in Afghanistan. Obama’s strategy has never been anything but political. As I said in Part I:
Obama knew he’d be fine politically [in the West Point speech] as long as he agreed to send some reinforcements — low-balled, but reasonably close to the 40,000 extra troops in [General Stanley] McChrystal’s request. Now the president can continue purporting to define the mission, in his own words, “narrowly . . . as disrupting, dismantling, and defeating al-Qaeda and its extremist allies,” while conservatives gush that we are over there to demolish bin Laden’s network and the Taliban. In reality, we’ll be chasing the thankless, impossible dream of turning Kabul into Kansas. Our unwavering resolve for this task will last 18 months, during which time we will continue solidifying the new narrative that the war is not ours but Afghanistan’s and that the hapless Karzai isn’t producing results fast enough. That will get Democrats through the midterms.
In the middle of 2011, the “taking into account conditions on the ground” part of Obama’s strategy will kick in. If, by talking down Karzai (which Obama continued doing in his [West Point] speech), the Left succeeds in souring the country on the Afghanistan enterprise such that the president’s reelection chances won’t be impaired by a withdrawal, the president will pull out. If, instead, the noble cause is still popularly perceived as noble, Obama will reprise the West Point two-step: satisfying the Right by staying the course, and satisfying the Left by re-promising a phased withdrawal in about 18 months, so that those resources can be invested here at home in rebuilding our economy and putting Americans back to work (unemployment should be hovering around 12 percent by then). That’s the plan.
Okay, okay, I got the unemployment rate wrong — it’s actually higher than 12 percent if you consider the real rather than the cooked numbers. More significantly, I failed to account for the possibility that our forces would find and kill bin Laden. That feat — in Pakistan, where we obviously don’t have 100,000 troops — made last night a no-brainer: Obama would declare “mission accomplished” and not worry about a somnolent American media asking how we could have surged to defeat the Taliban while simultaneously negotiating with the Taliban and calling for the Taliban’s inclusion in any Afghan political settlement. What I said 18 months ago remains true today: Obama’s plan “would be preposterous if it were actually a national-security strategy. But it’s not. It’s a political strategy.” It doesn’t need to be coherent or effective. It needs to get Obama through 2012.