President Obama’s speech last night on his planned Afghan drawdown was a disgrace.
He began by taking a gratuitous shot at his predecessor, George W. Bush, because Bush invaded Iraq. And he committed himself to withdrawing all 33,000 US “surge” troops by next summer, in the midst of what surely will be a crucial fighting season in Afghanistan.
Of course, there is absolutely no good military reason for this rush to the exit ramps. There is, however, a very good political reason, and that is the 2012 presidential election and the growing clamor, on both the far left and the far right, that Obama “end the war” and “bring the troops home.”
Indeed, never before in American history have the exigencies of war and national security been more subordinated to a president’s perceived political needs than right now — and specifically regarding Afghanistan. In truth, though, Obama has deliberately fostered the political pressures he claims to be responding to. Thus, throughout his presidency, Obama’s said very little about Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Libya, Egypt, Syria or the “Arab Spring”. And this, in turn, has created the perception, both domestically and internationally, that Obama really doesn’t care much about foreign policy and international affairs.
After all, as the president himself said in his December 1, 2009 speech at West Point:
Our troop commitment in Afghanistan cannot be open-ended, because the nation that I’m most interested in building is our own.
Obama tonight echoed this isolationist sentiment, even as he insisted that he is no isolationist:
Over the last decade, we have spent a trillion dollars on war, at a time of rising debt and hard economic times. Now, we must invest in America’s greatest resource: our people… America, it is time to focus on nation building here at home.
Excuse me, but this is intellectually dishonest. Surely Obama knows better. The idea that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have somehow kept us from investing in America is laughable and in defiance of all empirical truth. In reality, as I reported earlier this month here at FrumForum:
Spending on Afghanistan amounts to not even three percent of the $3.7 trillion federal budget, and it accounts for less than one percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). That’s hardly exorbitant. The real reason for the red sea of red ink is not Afghanistan, or military spending more broadly. Instead, the problem is entitlements — spending on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Indeed, as the Heritage Foundation’s Mackenzie Eaglen notes, over the past decade, necessary defense spending increases are responsible for less than 20 percent of all new spending from 2001 to 2009. This does not even include 2009 stimulus spending totaling $787 billion, with almost no money for defense. Moreover, as Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) has observed, entitlement spending has doubled since 1970, to 40 percent of the federal budget. Defense spending, meanwhile, has shrunk from about 39 percent to just under 16 percent — even with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “The fact is,” reports Contentions’ Amanda Goodman, “defense consumes a smaller share of the national economy today than it did throughout the Cold War.”
Moreover, despite its rumblings of discontent, Congress is not about to cut off funding for Afghanistan. But what many members of Congress would like to hear are routine reassurances and explications of administration policy from the commander in chief. Otherwise, they fear — and rightly so — that Obama’s Afghan policy, and his commitment to that policy, are lacking.
So it’s hardly surprising that support for the war has eroded. It’s eroded because of a conspicuous lack of presidential leadership. Reassert that leadership and watch public support for the war grow.
Equally objectionable is Obama’s pretense to rise above “false choices.” He is neither an “isolationist” nor an “interventionist,” he tells us.
Some would have America retreat from our responsibility as an anchor of global security, and embrace an isolation that ignores the very real threats that we face. Others would have America over-extend ourselves, confronting every evil that can be found abroad.
Obama’s right about the isolationists or non-interventionists: They would, indeed, ignore the very real threats that we face.
But I know of no one who supports a strong and assertive US foreign policy who would have American confront “every evil that can be found abroad.” That’s a gross caricature of our position.
What we do propose is that we confront evil when and where we can, and always when it threatens the American national interest. And, because we recognize that the Jihadist threat in the nuclear age transcends national boundaries and is potentially catastrophic, we rightly insist upon preemptive action to neutralize threats before they can harm our country, our interests and our people. “When threatened,” intoned Obama, “we must respond with force –
… but when that force can be targeted, we need not deploy large armies overseas. When innocents are being slaughtered and global security endangered, we don’t have to choose between standing idly by or acting on our own. Instead, we must rally international action, which we are doing in Libya, where we do not have a single soldier on the ground, but are supporting allies in protecting the Libyan people and giving them the chance to determine their destiny.
Now, Libya may ultimately turn out well; but if so, it will be in spite of Obama’s “leading from behind,” not because of him. Qaddafi is a third-rate dictator who has lost all popular legitimacy to rule. And he should have been dislodged from power back in March when the Libyan uprising was still in its infancy.
But Obama’s shortsighted refusal to deploy US military power swiftly and preemptively has resulted in a prolonged conflict in which every passing day gives the Islamists more power to organize and to hijack the uprising.
And, as for “not deploy[ing] large armies overseas,” Obama is in denial. In truth, a Libya without Qaddafi surely will need some sort of international stabilization force comprised of American and NATO ground troops.
And Libya is hardly alone. There are other countries — including North Korea, Yemen, Somalia and Lebanon — where the United States may yet have to deploy Soldiers and Marines.
“The idea that we are going to be able to fight future wars without having soldiers on the ground, or [by] just having a few special forces — I think that’s a pipedream,” explained Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mattis in a June 1, 2009 speech to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “High-performing small [ground combat] units,” he declared, “are now a national imperative.” Mattis should know. He’s lead troops into battle in both Iraq and Afghanistan and now serves as head of the US Central Command.
In short, then, Obama’s speech was strategically myopic and tactically dangerous. He has effectively ruled out the use of ground troops in other potential trouble spots even as he promises a premature withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan. This is, in a word, irresponsible — and it is unbecoming of a commander in chief, especially at a time of war. Political considerations ought to be subordinated to the exigencies of war and national security.
Yet Obama, I regret to say, is doing the exact opposite: He is sacrificing wartime national security requirements on the altar of domestic politics. America deserves better. Our military men and women deserve better.