Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Winter Soldier

President Obama recently gave a speech at the United States Military Academy, laying out his prosecution of the war in Afghanistan. The speech announced the deployment of additional troops:

“…I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan.”
…and then the redeployment of those troops:

“After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home.”
The President spoke of the difficulty of his decision:

“If I did not think that the security of the United States and the safety of the American people were at stake in Afghanistan, I would gladly order every single one of our troops home tomorrow.”
…and then speaking on behalf of the United Nations, as well as the friends and allies of the United States, he explains his intent:

“Our overarching goal remains the same: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future.”
He then gets to the “objective” of the war:

“To meet that goal, we will pursue the following objectives within Afghanistan. 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.”
His words made me think of a foreign aid package rather than a military effort. He will commit the help and support of the United States for a time, but because he has other priorities, he will have to withdraw that support in the near future. He does not state that “he will” accomplish objectives, but rather that “we must.” Instead of a promise to be measured and evaluated, it is a plea.

American soldiers are dying in Afghanistan, and we are still not sure if what President Obama is saying makes sense. Our military institutions teach the “Principles of War”, and the principle of Objective states, “Direct every military operation towards a clearly defined, decisive, and attainable objective.”

I won’t quibble over wording, but contrast the objective in the Iraq war (to create a center of Western influence in the Middle East) with what our President intends to do in Afghanistan. There are chasms of difference in strategy and outcomes!

The Iraq war took the United States from an isolationist foreign policy to one of engagement and confrontation in a part of the world we had avoided for centuries. We removed a dictator who was killing 3,000 people every month. We brought about the right to vote for Iraqi citizens, which includes over ten million women.

And this was the “bad” war.

The “good” war (that “war of necessity”) is being portrayed as a matter-of-fact project. Will it turn out that way? Carl von Clausewitz, in his book “On War”, wrote about the unpredictable nature of war. It’s unfortunate, but wars rarely unfold as politicians predict.

John Kerry, in a speech before the Foreign Relations Committee of the U.S. Senate in 1971, gave us insight into the politicizing of warfare. With clever philosophical duality, he chastised American soldiers as war criminals when they fought in Vietnam, and heralded them as heroes when they died. It is the speech where he poses the rhetorical question, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

Those words came to mind as I reviewed the transcript of President Obama’s speech. My thought was, “Senator Kerry, watch President Obama. He is showing you how it is done.”

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