"O=W" is a bumper sticker beginning to show up on liberals’ cars. After the president’s speech Tuesday night at West Point, I suspect it will spread rapidly.
For eight years, conservatives endured the agony of watching President George W. Bush attach the label "conservative" to a host of policies that were anti-conservative: Wilsonian wars, American empire, vast budget and trade deficits, increased entitlements, and the subordination of America’s interests to those of foreign powers. Now the shoe is on the other foot, and liberals are bidden to hold their tongues as President Obama makes Bush’s wars his own. The usual Washington sellout is in gear.
It should not come as a surprise. America is now a one-party state. The one party is the Establishment party, which is also the war party. Unless you are willing to cheer permanent war for permanent peace, you cannot be a member of the Establishment.
What can we say militarily about Obama’s surge? Understand that in Afghanistan, 30,000 troops is a drop in the bucket. The size of the country, the wide extent of Taliban and other anti-occupier action, and the largely mountainous nature of the terrain make Afghanistan a troop sponge. A serious effort would require 300,000 more troops, not 30,000.
Obama’s surge only makes strategic sense if it is intended to strengthen our position politically as a preliminary to negotiating with the Taliban. By holding a few areas in the Taliban’s heartland, we might make such negotiations worthwhile for Mullah Omar. The deal would be a coalition government including the Taliban, to last until we withdrew, coupled with a promise not to invite al-Qaeda back. Is that the White House’s intention? I can only say that I have seen no evidence of it.
On the operational level, we are adopting a fortress strategy: Festung Kandahar. The Taliban’s operational countermove is obvious: take the rest of the Pashtun areas, isolate us in our fortresses, then work to sever the supply lines running to the fortresses, including Kabul. The Taliban is already attempting to do this; our concentration should make it all the easier.
Tactically, the Taliban will withdraw from areas where we concentrate rather than trying to defend them: "When the enemy advances, we retreat." Then, they will penetrate those areas with small raids, ambushes, IED-placing parties, and suicide bombers: "When the enemy halts, we harass." We will face a war of the flea inside our fortresses.
If we add all this up, we see that militarily it makes no sense. Of course, that is true of any military option in the Afghan war. We are fighting the Pashtun, and in the end, the Pashtun always win Afghan wars. "This time is different" is, as always, the battle cry of Folly.
So what lies behind President Obama’s decision? Domestic political considerations, of course. He has done what politicians always do when faced with difficult choices: he has kicked the can down the road to a specific date, July 2011. That is when the president promises we will begin a withdrawal from Afghanistan. The date is meaningless beyond its political meaning, i.e., at that point Obama will again be faced with the same decision he just punted. With a presidential election looming, he will punt again. Meanwhile, the war’s price, in money and casualties, will have risen, making it even harder to walk away from sunk costs.
The real choice Obama faced was not how many troops to send. We do not have enough troops to commit a militarily meaningful number. The real choice was to get out now or get out later. His duty as chief executive, the state of America’s treasury (empty), concern for the well-being of our troops and their families, and the hopelessness of the situation all dictated he get out now. By punting the decision, he showed America and the world what he is made of. Dec. 1, 2009, was the date the Obama presidency failed.