Earlier this year, President Barack Obama described the conflict in Afghanistan as a “war of necessity,” but the plan he announced last night at the U.S. Military Academy bears disturbing reminders of the doomed strategy doggedly pursued by the last Democratic president to commit the U.S. to a major land war in Asia.
President Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam strategy rejected decisive military action in favor of a policy of gradual escalation that conveniently allowed more funding for his Great Society programs at home. Johnson’s “guns and butter” approach handcuffed America’s warriors, tragically wasted the blood of thousands of our finest young men, sparked enduring domestic political division, and eventually forced millions of people in Southeast Asia into the enslavement of communist tyranny. The vision of a U.S. helicopter fleeing from the roof of the U.S. embassy in Saigon forever reminds us of America’s shameful debacle.
Obama’s new strategy similarly hobbles the troop buildup requested by Gen. Stanley McChrystal by giving him half the 60,000 to 80,000 he requested in his “preferred” option, and by making their gradual deployment dependent on successful nation-building in the most inhospitable place on Earth for such efforts. Worst of all, the whole effort goes forward under a Damoclean timetable for withdrawal.
Expect a steady increase in American combat deaths and injuries in the years ahead, mounting public frustration as the nation-building component of the Obama plan is exposed as a failure, and the expenditure of billions more with little or nothing to show for it. Then will come administration claims of sufficient successes to begin withdrawals “on schedule,” followed ultimately by the inevitable presidential order to remove the last of our forces, perhaps from a rooftop somewhere in Kabul as surging Taliban and al-Qaida fighters joyously celebrate their victory.
Whether he is in the White House or not when that ugly scene unfolds, Obama will blame the defeat — and its terrible consequences for this nation at home and abroad — on unrealistic generals, political sabotage by congressional Republicans, Fox News mendacity or whatever else falls to hand as a scapegoat.
In reality, the seeds of defeat were sown in 2008 when the Obama Democrats reinvented Afghanistan as the “good war” to cover their incessant attacks on the “bad war” in Iraq. Once in office, though, it was “Obama’s war.” When the 21,000 additional U.S. troops he approved in March proved insufficient, Obama was confronted with a choice between adapting Bush’s counterinsurgency surge in Iraq to Afghanistan or mollifying his party’s anti-war rank-and-file. But Obama can no more have it both ways in 2009 than could LBJ in 1965 — and America will suffer, as it did before.