Dec 31, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 16 • By GARY SCHMITT
When Senator Barack Obama was running for president back in 2008, he accused the Bush administration, his opponent Senator John McCain, and their supporters of taking their eyes off the ball by fighting a war in Iraq and ignoring the “necessary war”—the war in Afghanistan. Well, four short years later, by Obama’s lights, Afghanistan is no longer the necessary war but a war to be ignored, a war to be “ended” regardless of the strategic consequences of doing so precipitously.
It’s now clear that Barack Obama’s only abiding interest in Afghanistan was rhetorical, allowing him political space to pull American troops out of Iraq as soon as possible and, once done, to begin the same process in Afghanistan. Even the surge of 30,000 more American troops that began in 2010 was, in hindsight, intended to be less a strategic game-changer (as the earlier surge in Iraq had been) than a stopgap measure to stabilize a deteriorating situation. Smaller than what had been requested by the generals on the ground and put fully in place for only one fighting season, the surge allowed the president to appear serious while, in fact, providing him cover for pulling the plug on the war effort altogether.
Make no mistake, pulling the plug he is. Despite internal Pentagon reports that indicate the Afghans will not be ready to take over combat operations in 2014, news accounts have the White House pushing for cutting the remaining 68,000 American troops in Afghanistan this coming year by another 20,000 to 30,000, with the likely goal of leaving fewer than 10,000 noncombat troops in place by the end of 2014. This is not just a race to the exit but a full-out sprint. And once again it’s a decision made against the best advice of the commanders in the field, who would like nothing more than to hold the current force levels constant through at least the 2013 fighting season.