The foreign affairs analyst Robert Kagan, writing a blog post at The Washington Post, was one of several who stirred the pot by concluding that the president’s timetable was dictated by not by his duty to the nation, but by his re-election plans. After the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, and the military’s top general, David E. Petraeus, publicly stated that they supported the president, but questioned the “aggressive” pace of the withdrawal, Kagan said that military saw it as a “disaster,” writing:
Under our Constitution, military leaders have no choice but to endorse the president’s decision after giving him their best advice. They could resign, of course, but to have the entire senior military leadership resign over a president’s decision contrary to their advice would be a disaster, and not least for the troops on the ground.
Make no mistake, however. The entire military leadership believes the president’s decision is a mistake, and especially the decision to withdraw the remainder of the surge forces by September 2012. They will soldier on and do their best, but as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, put it, in characteristic understatement, they believe the decision will increase the risk to the troops and increase the chance that the mission will not succeed. It bears repeating that the deadline imposed by the president has nothing to do with military or strategic calculation. It has everything to do with an electoral calculation. President Obama wants those troops out two months before Americans go to the voting booth.
But what is truly disastrous is not the withdrawal in itself, though that may be risky for both the retreating troops and to the supporters they have left behind. The actual catastrophe lies in the complete inability of the administration to pursue any kind of long term, strategically sound action policy. When considering any challenge it can weigh matters in only one balance: how to win the next election. Health care policy, international relations and military policy are all measured by this crude and self-serving yardstick.
This creates a very destructive decision rule which manifests itself as a low cunning that is paradoxically good at calculating at playing for baubles while oblivious to the destruction real value. It is the politics of burning Van Goghs in the street for 5 minutes of bonfire warmth. It is a political attitude of utmost contempt toward the governed, based on the conviction that voters can always be persuaded to sell out their birthright for a “mess of pottage”. And sad to say it works often and well.
The risk being assessed in this case, from my perspective, the risk having to do with the ability to achieve objectives of the military campaign plan, acknowledging that at every level of the chain of command above me there are additional considerations, and each person above me, all the way up to and including the President has a broader purview and broader considerations that are brought to bear. [...]
And so that’s how I would layout the process that took place, the very good discussion, this was indeed vigorous. All voices were heard in the situation room. And ultimately the decision has been made. And with a decision made, obviously I support that.
… shows Obama siding with Petraeus in 2009, but only ambivalently and conditionally, and in a way that suggested he was willing to give the counterinsurgency strategy a chance but was not convinced of its success. If there is one overriding takeaway from Obama’s speech tonight, it is that the same President who 18 months ago was led by his generals into an escalation that he didn’t appear to fully support has now taken back control of his policy in Afghanistan. Right now, that means leading U.S. strategy down the path of de-escalation. As Obama said, this not the end of the war in Afghanistan, but it’s certainly the beginning of America’s effort to “wind down the war.”
Tomorrow’s newspaper and TV headlines will, undoubtedly, focus on the President’s announcement that he will be drawing down 33,000 surge troops by the summer of 2012. There’s no question that this matters, particularly to those 33,000 Americans and their families
There was no banner, no naval cheering section, no aircraft-carrier landing and — thank heavens — no flight suit. But make no mistake: President Obama gave his own version of a “mission accomplished” speech Wednesday.
The policy itself was no triumph, just a split-the-difference compromise between the slower troop withdrawal from Afghanistan sought by the generals and the faster one many congressional Democrats and a majority of the public desired. But Obama packaged it nicely, wrapped it with a bow and declared, perhaps prematurely, that his “surge” in Afghanistan had been a success.
This was the phrase coined by Henry Luce, which so aptly described America as the modern-day colossus, more powerful than any nation had ever been. Wednesday night, President Obama said that power had reached its limit. He was bringing 10,000 troops home from Afghanistan. The war was not finished, but we are.
“America, it is time to focus on nation building at home,” the president said.
There it was, the theme of the speech. We had done what we could in Afghanistan, and there was, of course, more to do. But the purse was empty and the nation was tired — this is me, not Obama, talking, but he said much the same thing. “We must be as pragmatic as we are passionate; as strategic as we are resolute,” Obama said. …
I have heard this speech before. I heard echoes of Richard Nixon explaining “Vietnamization.” Gonna turn the war over to our stolid allies. We put them on their feet. We trained them. We supplied them. We schooled them at our elite military academies. They looked splendid in their uniforms. But when the U.S. pulled out, South Vietnam collapsed. It will happen again in Afghanistan. I think Obama knows that. He fought this war — authorized the West Point surge — because he did not know how to get out. Now, he does. As any previous president could have told him, it’s by getting out.