This is a bit beyond the bailiwick of this blog, but a particular point of the Af-Pak strategy needs to be addressed, and I do address strategy:
The general agreement among Afghans is that Barack Obama’s highly anticipated speech had his trademark message of hope. But unfortunately this message of hope was directed at the Taliban and not the people of Afghanistan. In the words of a friend and fellow Afghan, Obama basically told the Taliban to go home and rest for 18 months and then return to a no-man’s land up for grabs.
Some variation of this has been printed in just about every news article and opposition piece since that speech. It’s rubbish. Here’s why:
- Whether there is an announced timetable or not, the Taliban are going to, you know, sort of notice when the US troops leave. It doesn’t matter when that is unless one subscribes to war without end, for which the American people have neither patience nor resources.
- A strategy without benchmarks and timelines is not a strategy. Full stop. Donald Rumsfeld got a lot of heat when he suggested metrics for the war in Iraq, but I think he was getting closer than anyone (including Obama) has in defining success. Without these, the US will not know when or if it has won.
- Speaking of war without end, the enemy in this war has neither the will nor the ability to surrender, which is usually how inter-nation wars end. Not the will because they view this as a holy cause to be rewarded in the afterlife, and not the ability because there is no one who speaks for or controls the whole. A lack of formal organization limits actions born of coherence.
- To the argument that the Taliban will take an 18 month vacation, I feel it more than obvious to point out that they aren’t taking that vacation in St. Croix. Whether they fight or not, they’re going to be in Afghanistan or Pakistan. A force of over 100,000 troops with a timeline and benchmarks is going to be hard at work. As Ronald Reagan noted in another conflict, they can run but they cannot hide.
- Undefined wars are demoralizing to the troops and the public. If you like winning, say when and how you’re going to win. Then do it. The real dithering is to under-fund, under-resource, and under-specify the war. After eight years of vague and irresponsible attention to Af-Pak, it’s time to win and go home.
The “Taliban on vacation” trope is pure political posturing, not the sort of cohesive support 100,000 people in harm’s way deserve.