The Corner

National Security & Defense

Obama’s Philosophy of War: Set a Goal, Then Prevent the Military from Achieving It

Today President Obama announced that he is calibrating his withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, from not-nearly-enough to win by the time he leaves office (5,500 troops), to a-bit-more than not-nearly-enough-to-win (8,400 troops). The president noted President Bush’s success in decimating al-Qaeda leadership (forgot to mention Bush, though) and the killing of Osama bin Laden:

And given that progress, a year and a half ago — in December 2014 — America’s combat mission in Afghanistan came to a responsible end.  Compared to the 100,000 troops we once had there, today, fewer than 10,000 remain.  And compared to their previous mission — helping to lead the fight — our forces are now focused on two narrow missions:  training and advising Afghan forces, and supporting counterterrorist operations against the remnants of al Qaida as well as other terrorist groups, including ISIL. 

The president started his remarks today by reiterating his campaign pledge not to allow Afghanistan to be used as a safe haven for terrorists to attack the U.S. as they did on September 11. Given that we chased Al Qaeda from Afghanistan more than a decade ago, all we needed to do was to buttress the capability and continued development of the Afghan government and security forces, so they can be a capable military ally and counter-terrorism partner in the years ahead. Unfortunately, Obama has a nearly-explicit policy of tolerating terrorist safe-havens everywhere else in the Muslim world, with results we see today on a nearly daily basis in terrorist attacks in Europe and the U.S., and in a refugee crisis in Europe. U.S. soldiers and officials in the national security establishment have watched in horror as Obama threw away the tenuous stability we gained at such frightful cost in Iraq, and as he allowed the Syrian civil war to become a regional conflagration, and made things even worse by empowering Iran’s extension of extremist hegemony throughout the region. 

Obama also reiterated his call for political reconciliation. 

I will say it again—the only way to end this conflict and achieve a full drawdown of foreign forces from Afghanistan is through a lasting political settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban. That’s the only way. And that is why the United States will continue to strongly support an Afghan-led reconciliation process and why we call on all countries in the region to end safe havens for militants and terrorists.

Political reconciliation was always the ultimate goal of the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan — the only way to make durable the gains from our soldiers’ sacrifices. But whereas the military tends to see victory for the U.S. and its allies as the only path to a lasting political settlement, Obama seems to believe that winning wars and achieving political reconciliation are contradictory aims.

Incidentally, when Obama leaves office he will be leaving large swathes of the world in a state of war and further away from political settlement than ever. 

Mario Loyola — Contributing editor Mario Loyola is senior fellow and Director of the Center for Competitive Federalism at the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty. He began his career in corporate ...

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