Presidential Speechifying, Part Deux
Two weeks ago I was frantically busy and totally focused on the school I'm attending, so I more or less ignored the West Point speech on the grounds that:
a) I already know my Afghanistan deployment date, and
b) The information I was learning in class would allow me to accomplish my mission more effectively and save my life and the lives of my Soldiers, and
c) The class I'm in has a 20% failure rate, so I actually was studying.
Having passed the hard tests and having nothing on my plate for the weekend, I can throw my two cents into the fire. It's not the best write up ever, but I've got entirely too much vested in the issue at this point, roughly 30 days out from deployment, to do a truly good job.
Now, in the spirit of common sense and fairness, I would like you all to reread the speech, because honestly, who sat through the whole thing at the time?
Money quotes, not in the order that he made them and with commentary interspersed.
"And as Commander-in-Chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home. These are the resources that we need to seize the initiative, while building the Afghan capacity that can allow for a responsible transition of our forces out of Afghanistan. "
Deja vu. Sounds a lot like George's plan to end Iraq.
"We must deny al Qaeda a safe haven. We must reverse the Taliban's momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government. And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan's security forces and government so that they can take lead responsibility for Afghanistan's future."
Counter-Insurgency defined. Yup. Three goals that were achievable in Iraq, were achieved in Iraq, and more or less define victory from out perspective. Keep in mind that victory for the US is different than victory for Afghanistan. Victory for the US is to turn it over to the ANA and ANP to finish this war. Victory for them is peace and security in a functional country. But it has to be their win, not ours.
"Years of debate over Iraq and terrorism have left our unity on national security issues in tatters, and created a highly polarized and partisan backdrop for this effort."
Your Presidentialness -- You, and the folks who created you, packaged you, supported you, and elected you are the ones who did this. Just sayin' This is why you are worried about the national will of your own country.
"I make this decision because I am convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is the epicenter of violent extremism practiced by al Qaeda. It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak. This is no idle danger; no hypothetical threat. In the last few months alone, we have apprehended extremists within our borders who were sent here from the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan to commit new acts of terror. And this danger will only grow if the region slides backwards, and al Qaeda can operate with impunity. We must keep the pressure on al Qaeda, and to do that, we must increase the stability and capacity of our partners in the region."
He's not talking to West Point cadets like this. They know who the enemy is and why. Here he's talking directly to those morons on the Left who thought ChangeyHope was going to translate out into '30 days into my Presidency, every deployment will be concluded and all troops will be home and we'll start disbanding our military.'
"But taken together, these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011. Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground. We'll continue to advise and assist Afghanistan's security forces to ensure that they can succeed over the long haul. But it will be clear to the Afghan government -- and, more importantly, to the Afghan people -- that they will ultimately be responsible for their own country. "
In other words, he's giving the folks on the ground what they want to do their job. I'm glad that he is listening. But he is also providing a stick to beat the Karzai government over the head with. One of the cornerstones of counterinsurgency is good governance. If the United States makes an open-ended commitment to prop up the Karzai government no matter what, they have no motive to fix their problems. If we tell them that if they don't get their act in gear, they are going to left to be shot by the Taliban, then maybe they'll get the message. (h/t Blog Them Out of the Stone Age)
Now, a couple further points.
Venue, selection of. Soon-to-be-LT hits it on the head. Excellent place for a major policy speech that effectively sets new operational guidance for a war. A place where, unlike practically anywhere else in America that isn't a military installation, everyone sitting in the audience will be directly affected by what he had to say. The Army and Marine Corps are at war, America is at the mall.
Support of mission vs. support of troops. Under Bush, I argued over and over that support of the troops necessarily entails supporting the mission. Guess what? Under Obama, support of troops necessarily entails supporting the mission. Conservatives, by and large, supported the Bush administration, the mission, and the troops. Liberals did not. But that support does not entitle Conservatives to begin acting as did the average liberal during the Bush years because they don't like the sitting President. Turn about is fair play. If failing to support Bush's warfighting because you dislike his ideology was seditious, near-treason, and liable to piss me off, failing to support me because you dislike my current boss's ideology is no different. You do NOT get a free pass because I happen to agree with your fiscal policy or your general foreign policy stances. Especially if you are attacking the mission and the troops with an eye to midterm elections or the 2012 Presidential race. (h/t Foreign and Domestic, who said it again here.)
VDH is a smart, smart man. Occasionally, I want to tase him. He bitched at the Prez with some legit criticisms, but he also said that it was a "cerebral but flat speech". Victor is a very smart man with massive creds in the military history category, but you don't talk to professional officers the way that Herodotus records commanders talking to hoplites. Different psychology. You don't need folks hyped up to fight a counterinsurgency, you need calm and cool professionals.
While some people have criticized his discussion of the economic costs of this war, it has a place. It is hypocritical coming from a President who has pushed numerous massive spending bills and is fighting to spend billions more on health care, but it is a real. Endless money forms the sinews of war, as Cicero put it.
Finally, deadlines, discussion of. Some commentators, afflicted by Obama Derangement Syndrome (the mirror image of Bush Derangement Syndrome, which causes the sufferer to believe that a man who flew fighter jets is actually stupid and to criticize him for mutually contradictory reasons simultaneously), seem to believe that there is a magic switch which will shut down our commitment to Afghanistan in 18 months and that we will all pack up and go home in a 30 days window. Not happening, and not what the Prez was talking about. He was talking about beginning the transition in 18 months to an Afghan-led security situation. That process can and will take years, just like it did in Iraq. Just ask Gates.
Other commentary, some of which addresses similar issues, and some of which disagrees.
John Chappell quoting MG (ret) Sachnow