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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A War Plan Designed By Committee

"A camel is a horse designed by a committee." That's the feeling I had listening to Obama's speech tonight about his military designs for Afghanistan.

The speech followed pre-speech reports of Obama's plan. There were no substantive surprises, but Obama seemed truly moved by the decision ahead of him. As he should be. Obama is learning that sending soldiers to their deaths is not above any President's pay grade. And leadership and confidence are as important as dotting the i's and crossing the t's.

Here are my "live" thoughts on the speech, the italics indicate I'm paraphrasing Obama's words, not quoting the text:

We did not ask for this fight. Obama's best point. This was not a war of choice. Obama's recitation of the events of 9/11 was moving not because of his words, but because of the memories. No gloss put on the nature of the enemy, then or now.

Iraq on border of success. Obama danced around the politics of the Iraq war. No mention that the success was because Bush did not follow the advice of Obama and the Democrats on the surge.

No delay or denial of resources during review period. That's political gloss. The military needs time to ramp up a large troop deployment.

No idle danger or hypothetical threat. This region the source of direct threats to the U.S. Clearly aimed at his left flank.

Defeat, dismantle and disable al-Qaeda. This phrase repeated. No use of the word "victory."

Rush troops to Afghanistan, but begin withdrawal in July 2011. Timelines can be self-defeating, so by setting a timeline Obama may have made it less likely the withdrawal could be achieved as hoped. Yes, Obama left himself the out of "taking into account conditions on the ground," but the timeline still is out there. Towards the end of his speech, he circled back to the timeline, and said that we need a sense of urgency, and can't keep an open-ended commitment.

Commit total of 30,000 troops. This is less than the military requested. While no President should be a rubber stamp for the military on objectives, great deference is deserved as to tactics. Where you have hand-selected your military leaders to give you their military advice as to how best to achieve your objectives, it can be demoralizing to undermine that advice by requiring troops to fight understaffed.

Pressure the Afghan government to clean up its act, or else. But there really isn't an "or else." And everyone knows it. As in Iraq, government reforms may have to follow, not lead, the military campaign.

Strategy on both sides of Pakistani border. A veiled threat to go into Pakistan if Pakistan does not act.

Arguments against the effort not valid. Afghanistan not another Vietnam. Can't do it with present troop levels.

Connection between national security and the economy. This is where Obama fell down completely. Military expenditures did not cause the credit crisis or bank and investment banking failures. Obama's domestic economic plans will make it less likely we can sustain the Afghan effort, not more likely. Until this point in the speech, Obama was on a reasonable track. It's unfortunate that he used the speech for domestic political advocacy.

We've done more for the world than anyone else. We have not sought world domination. This is the speech Obama should have been giving for the past 10 months, not the subservient apologies we have witnessed. I hope he keeps this text for the future.

Partisanship poisoning national discourse. When this war started we were united. Not really true. Many Democrats opposed the Bush war plan in Afghanistan. And the partisanship is generated by Obama's own domestic tactics.

On balance, a very good Obama-esque speech.

Obama deserves praise for finally reaching this decision, even if the past 8 months have been wasted since Obama completed his first Afghanistan strategic review. And Obama deserves further praise for standing up to the left-wing of the Democratic Party, which simply wants out of Afghanistan regardless of the consequences.

I wish Obama and the military well on this. I hope Obama has designed a horse, not a camel.

Related Posts:
Is "Finish the Job" the New "Peace With Honor"?
Why Isn't The Troops' Urgency Fierce Now?
A Clintonian Defense of Our Nixonian President

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  1. Connecting the current economic problems and national security, the way Obama did, is either idiotic or disingenuous. I'm surprised that he didn't try to connect health care with Afghanistan in a more direct way. He kind of did with that "partisanship poisoning national discourse" junk.

    Thank you for pointing out that Obama refuses to use the word victory. That is a very bad sign for the troops in the field and our allies worldwide.

  2. The central point is, and that you have made (you must have overheard me talking)that Obama did not take the advice of the General he hired to advise him. He turned around and asked another hundred people what to do and got another 100 answers. It is a classic trap.

    If he had been a trial lawyer, his client would have spent a lot of time in jail cooling his/her heels while he crafted his closing argument. We need a President who can think on his feet not one who sits and ponders.

    Obama and Oprah have had 10 months to zone in on Afghanistan instead of "Global health care" and the Olympics.

    And on the economy? Well President O, Osama Bin L was quoted somewhere this week (probably in my dreams) as being proud to have brought the US to its economic knees. When Osama speaks, the world listens; When Obama speaks, the world worries.

  3. NOTE: SamHenry is at samandimp.com and finally got the avitar to work.

  4. Obama to Taliban - Don't worry - be happy - only 30,000 troops. I'm having a surge but I don't really mean it.

    To our troops: "Let me be clear: I'm 100% behind you but not your General.

    I hope he gets the troops for the allies he need otherwise his calculations, which surely included them, will fail and our men trapped between Al Queda and whatever Iran is to and that Israel may end. The so called "peace process" does not include this part of it; nor Beiruit. Chaos is at the door not just Al Queda.

  5. Are all the long faces because Obama has told us that it’s going to be over in 18 months? Who believes in THAT particular deadline? Are we upset because he ‘authorized’ only 30,000 more troops? We know that months ago when he started his latest ‘deliberation’ on Afghanistan he announced 14,000 troops more beyond the 22,000 already in the pipeline. That means McChystal is getting more than 44,000 troops as initially requested.

    Or, are we really soured because this President obviously doesn’t have a clue about what he’s doing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? Yep. That’s the scary and disheartening thing about the Chicago gang. They are running one mean and nasty political campaign with a smooth-talking front man. They sure can talk the talk can’t they?

    On the other side of the hill, who have the Republicans got? Nobody! The Huckster is toast. Sarah is never going to win any national election. Very depressing.

  6. He has told the Taliban, in effect, not to worry this isn't really a surge.

    He has told our troops he's behind them but not their general.

    He rides two horses like a bareback rider in the circus. Hope he doesn't fall.

  7. SamHenry. Nice page you have there. I'll have to visit once in awhile.Maybe even comment

  8. I agree with your central point -- that it sounded like a "plan by committee," but had a different reaction when he opened with the line about 9/11.

    Your take:

    "We did not ask for this fight. Obama's best point. This was not a war of choice. Obama's recitation of the events of 9/11 was moving not because of his words, but because of the memories. No gloss put on the nature of the enemy, then or now."

    To me, the problem was that he went right to 9/11, thereby ignoring or glossing over considerable additional evidence supporting the point . . . i.e., that we didn't ask for this fight.

    He certainly should have included the first bombing of the WTC in 1993, the several United States embassy bombings, and especially those two coordinated and simultaneous bombings on August 7, 1998 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya, the foiled Millenium bombing attacks 1998-2000, and the attack on the Cole in Aden in October, 2000, all of which were obvious acts of war directed against the United States that were taken by al Qaeda. (The '96 Khobar Towers attack was a Hezbollah/Iranian operation).

    In the "Looming Tower" Lawrence Wright rather convincingly established that those two African embassy bombings were deliberate attempts to draw the United States into Afghanistan.

    Had the Clinton Administration taken some form of even measured military action (other than unsuccessfully lobbing one Cruise missile) to militarily neutralize al Qaeda at any time during his Administration, we might well have avoided the subsequent personal horror and devastation of 9/11.

    But by pretending that 9/11 was the first thing that happened, he supports the partisan narrative.

  9. SAMHENRY how do you comment at your site? I can't seem to get my wordpress login account to work today. Very aggravating.

    Trochilus I also visited your site. Nice

  10. Professor, I'm glad to see that you seem to give Obama credit while taking issue with some of his points -- unlike so many other conservatives who are skipping foolishly over the fact that Obama has now committed more than 50,000 additional troops to this fight. For a liberal Democrat to do this in the face of fierce opposition from the left wing of his own party (which will only grow more heated), amidst a general war weariness that affects a much wider segment of American society, and with the knowledge that Republicans would be ready to pounce on anything that might translate into votes in 2010, is a powerful statement, even a courageous one, to the effect that Obama is prepared to live up to the President's most important responsibility: to protect the nation.

    It may turn out to be unwise to state an 18-month timeframe, but Obama left plenty of flexibility to push that out. It may be that 40,000 troops, instead of 30,000, would be better -- but who is really in a position to say flatly that the addition of five combat brigades between last April and next August will not do the trick. I've heard lots of people say today that allies will be tentative due to the timeframe and the enemy will be encouraged. I've even heard it said that the Taliban simply can lay low for 18 months and then take over. All this vastly underestimates the significance of the added combat power, as if the war turned on perceptions and that force mattered not at all.

    It's critically important that Americans back Obama on this. Use it as political leverage against him and the losers will be the United States and its people. It's time for conservatives to live up to their oft-stated commitment to national security.

  11. The global housing bubble was inflated largely by the fed keeping interest rates imprudently low in an ongoing effort to mitigate the effects of 9/11 on the economy. The crash that came was, therefore, an indirect result of that attack. The point being that there absolutely IS a connection between national security and the economy. Unfortunately for us all, our "leaders" lack the stones to do what is actually needed to start digging us out of the hole we are in. We must eliminate too-big-to-fail GSEs, Banks and Automakers, and stop inflating bubbles in failed social engineering schemes. But the idea that the Democrats are the people to do anything about any of that is utterly laughable.