President Barack Obama has just finished explaining to the world that he is ordering 10,000 soldiers home from Afghanistan this year and another 23,000 by September 2012, which will still leave some 70,000 till 2014, when his secretary walks in, notepad at the ready, and says, "The Taliban called. They said, 'Take your time.'"
A recent Ken Cataino cartoon is a reminder that the Taliban is in no hurry as they know the United States can't wait much longer to exit because 1) Obama is facing a re-election campaign and 2) an overwhelming majority of Americans have said we don't belong in Afghanistan and should exit ASAP.
In an open letter to the president, former New York Mayor Ed Koch wrote, "Why are you waiting? We're going to leave anyway. Bring our soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq home. All of them. Now."
A phased Afghan withdrawal over the next 3 1/2 years is a recipe for disaster. A date or even a year certain for ending involvement is to concede victory to Taliban.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan (and Iraq) Zalmay Khalilzad calls it "Obama's Drawdown Disaster." The Afghan-born U.S. diplomat writes that NATO statistics indicate that violence overall is up by 30 percent in 2011. Clearly, no time to be pulling out 33,000 troops.
"The president's policy," he writes, "is significantly narrowing our margin of safety."
"The U.S. provided better firepower to Afghan resistance fighters opposing the Soviet occupation in the 1980s than it is giving to the Afghan national army today," Khalilzad argues. "The ANA currently lacks adequate air transport, armor, and protected mobility."
Nor did "the president explain how the U.S. plans to induce Pakistan to shift from supporting the Taliban and other insurgents to facilitating a peace settlement." In proclaiming that "it is time to focus on nation building here at home," Obama expressed a clear desire to reduce our commitment.
This is understandable in terms of our domestic and economic circumstances. The danger is that pressures at home will lead the White House to accept excessive risks with regards to the war effort but sell it both here and abroad with inflated expectations.
Under the headline "The Coming Afghan Debacle," The Wall Street Journal's Bret Stephens writes, "The Taliban is jubilant at Obama's strategy" and "so is Iran." He quotes Taliban field commander Jamal Khan as delighted by the news of a staggered U.S. withdrawal and "confident that Islamic ideology and religion will trump American technology."
It is increasingly obvious to the Taliban leadership that Obama shaped the troop downsizing to fit the needs of his 2012 re-election campaign, not to the needs of U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus and his commanders in Afghanistan.
The Vietnam War — for the United States — ended almost four decades ago. The last combatant flew home in March 1973. But America's South Vietnamese allies fought on — with U.S. military assistance voted by Congress. They held their ground with their own air attack and transport support (which ANA doesn't have).
North Vietnamese commanders, as subsequent memoirs attest, thought they had several more years of fighting before they could hope to take Saigon.
Until, that is, the U.S. Congress, in its infinite wisdom, grew tired of solemn commitments to our former South Vietnamese allies and cut off all military aid. As North Vietnam's legendary commander Vo Nguyen Giap later admitted, he thought Saigon was still at least two years away from falling to communist forces.
Following the congressional vote, Giap quickly improvised an offensive to take Saigon — suddenly handed to him on a silver platter. Fifty-five days later, communist troops marched into Saigon's Presidential Palace unopposed.
Similarly, in Afghanistan, when the last U.S. and allied combat troops leave Afghanistan, the U.S.-trained and -funded Afghan army will need major U.S. financial support — already more than the entire budget of the Afghan government. No one is betting that Congress will continue to underwrite an army in which almost 80 percent cannot read or write.
Next to domestic priorities, the need to sustain an ANA against a Taliban that long since jettisoned its former al-Qaida allies will pale into insignificance — especially in Congress.
In fact, there is much evidence that Taliban supremo Mullah Omar had already disowned his alliance with al-Qaida's Osama bin Laden when Obama was elected president. Yet Obama endorsed the Afghan war because "that's where al-Qaida is."
A series of erroneous assumptions fueled a decade-long war that has already cost half a trillion dollars, following a $1 trillion strategic blunder in Iraq.
A ranking Iraqi official recently conceded privately to this reporter that today 1) "sad to say but Iran now has more influence in Iraq than the United States and 2) "hard to recognize but Saddam Hussein's brutal dictatorship was the best defense against the regional ambitions of Iran's medieval mullahs."
Pakistan, now in its noisiest anti-U.S. mood following the U.S. Navy SEALs raid that killed bin Laden, which humiliated the Pakistani army, can see an opportunity for restoring the status quo ante. With its original Taliban creation back in the saddle in Kabul, it will restore sufficient clout to make sure the United States and NATO exit from Afghanistan peacefully.
Pakistan will also return to what it perceives to be a more familiar and comfortable defense posture — Afghanistan as its defense in depth to the west in the event of an Indian frontal attack.
Between now and then, Pakistan's all-powerful Inter-Service Intelligence agency will be back in the driver's seat facilitating Taliban's negotiations with the United States for an honorable withdrawal.
Many ignore Vietnam's lessons as the Cold War ended in a global communist defeat that made the loss of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos seem like minor tactical setbacks. Think again.
The unfolding disaster in Afghanistan, compounded by the calamitous misadventure in Libya, add immediacy to the "Haunting Legacy" of Vietnam — a new must-read book by Marvin and daughter Deborah Kalb on how and why the Vietnam albatross continues to circle the White House.
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