Bill Kristol’s love affair with Barack Obama is over. Ditto Max Boot. And the reason is Afghanistan. Kristol and Boot are upset with the president because, they now realize, Obama’s weak rhetoric and lackluster policies are undermining the U.S. war effort there. These policies, they understand, are setting the stage for an American debacle in Afghanistan.
There “is an [expert] consensus on two things,” said Kristol yesterday on Fox News Sunday.
“One [is] the timeline. We are paying a much bigger price for the timeline over there than a lot of us thought we would when, [in December], Obama announced” his plans for Afghanistan…
“We understand that we could pull them out very slowly, and Secretary Gates and Secretary Clinton sort of walked it back after President Obama announced it. [But] over there, [in Afghanistan], it sounded like the U.S. is getting out, and everyone’s got to hedge and cut their deals.
“I think the single best thing the president personally could do now is explicitly say, ‘Look, we hope to begin drawing down then, but we are here to stay.’”
Boot, likewise, laments that:
“Obama’s deadline for starting to withdraw from Afghanistan (July 2011) causes [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai to doubt that the U.S. will be around long term and only reinforces his desire to ingratiate himself with other powerful actors — to the detriment of the goals we seek to accomplish in Afghanistan.”
I’m glad these two (neoconservative) gentlemen are belatedly recognizing what some of us warned about back in December, namely that,
“words matter greatly in war, and especially in counterinsurgency warfare. Words matter because, as Charles Krauthammer notes in [the Dec. 3] Washington Post, ‘will matters.’ Obama’s weak words, [and his corresponding insistence on a timeline for withdrawal], raise damaging doubts about the strength of his will.”
Indeed, as Nushin Arbabzadah’s presciently observed in the December 3 issue of the Guardian:
“Obama’s message might be understood as complex in the rest of the world but to rural Afghanistan it means only one thing: the return of the Taliban. For rural Afghans this means that they have no option but to co-operate with the Taliban because the insurgents’ ruthlessness is still fresh in public memory.
“The people of Kabul have worse to fear from Obama’s message. After all, many Kabulis happily rounded up the Taliban and handed them over to the foreign troops in 2001. The likelihood of encountering a vengeful Taliban is a scary thought, especially since Afghans are aware that few people would be ready to take up arms and die fighting against them.”
For unknown reasons, however, Kristol and Boot were singing a different tune last winter. They not only refrained from criticizing Obama back then, they even praised him. The president, we were told, was “a war president,” (Kristol) who was “growing in office – and not in a liberal direction” (Boot).
Would that it were so. In fact, as Kristol and Boot now realize rather late into the game, the president’s rhetoric and policies are setting the stage for an American defeat in Afghanistan.
That’s because as General Douglas McArthur explained, there is no substitute for victory. There is no other option for the U.S. than to win this war. Yet Obama has never declared that America intends to win in Afghanistan, and our enemies know this. Thus, they are simply waiting for us to leave and biding their time. And why wouldn’t they? Obama already said that American troops would be withdrawn next year, pretty much no matter what. Our enemies can take their time, hide, pretend to have changed, and reconquer the country once we’re gone.
America’s publicly announced policy should be that we will stay in Afghanistan as long as it takes to achieve victory. Ironically and paradoxically, this likely would mean that American troops can come home from Afghanistan far sooner than anyone expects.
Yes, we can! (Win in Afghanistan that is) But not unless and until the president abandons his timeline for withdrawal and commits unequivocally to victory.