I bridle at the contention – apparently endorsed by all but one of the Republican presidential candidates – that a bunch of unelected generals should be dictating foreign policy. If President Obama believes that the war in Afghanistan is not worth fighting, he has the right – nay, obligation – to get us the hell out.
But this latest move smacks of politics, not grand strategy, which is why I find it so risible. Instead of making a clear-cut argument against occupying Afghanistan indefinitely, Obama came out in favor of a halfhearted withdrawal that seems designed around a political timetable (I’m sure it’s entirely coincidental that 23,000 troops are scheduled to return home by September 2012) rather than any broader strategic objectives.
It’s the worst of both worlds: We’re staying, but our new strategy is designed to minimize oversight – it seems Congress can acclimate itself to a steady diet of drones, commando raids, and airstrikes just about anywhere outside the continental United States – while maximizing the risk of collateral damage and civilian casualties. I’m open to arguments in favor of full-scale withdrawal, but it’s incredibly cynical to take credit for reducing our military footprint while sustaining an indefinite – but inadequate – presence on the ground. Adding insult to injury, I vividly remember Candidate Obama criticizing the very strategy President Obama has just adopted – indiscriminately air-raiding villages is evidently less of a problem when you’ve got a second term to win.