President Obama will announce a drawdown of 10,000 U.S.forces fromAfghanistanin a speech tomorrow evening. According to White House officials, the withdrawal will consist of 5,000 troops this summer and another 5,000 troops after the summer fighting season ends. They plan to withdrawal 30,000 troops within 12 months.
Yesterday, in an interview on CNN, Defense Secretary Robert Gates indicated that the U.S.will continue to have a strong presence in Afghanistan, but conceded that political realities necessitated a beginning of “credible” troop withdrawals. These political realities are a major reason for Gates’ decision to leave his post. “[Frankly] I can’t imagine being part of a nation, part of a government … that’s being forced to dramatically scale back our engagement with the rest of the world.” This startling statement, told to Newsweek writers John Barry and Tara McKelvey, reflected his concern that economic and political strife have diminished the ability of the United States to continue being the indispensable nation of the world.
The political pressure on President Obama is coming from both the left and the right. With the economy slowly recovering and an unemployment rate over 9%, both political parties have been arguing that the war is simply too costly. The war cost the U.S. $128 billion dollars last year. It is estimated that the war has a monthly price tag of $8 billion. However, the cost of the war is only one line of attack.
Isolationism is becoming the hot new trend among Republicans who seem to be pushing their views rightward, closer to Ron Paul’s brand of Libertarianism. This trend has concerned Reagan Republicans like John McCain: “This is isolationism. There’s always been an isolation strain in the Republican Party… but now it seems to have moved more center stage, so to speak.” The GOP presidential hopefuls find themselves opposing everything President Obama stands for, even if it is continuing a war that was started by the last Republican President– George W. Bush. Strangely enough, these GOP presidential hopefuls find themselves in bed with liberals who also oppose the war.
Liberals oppose the war, too, but this opposition is a vestige of their opposition to Bush’s wars. But now, with a Democratic President in the White House, they have replaced Bush bashing with Obama bashing. Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com, for example, has spent the last two years equating President Obama with President Bush. Recently, he wrote that President Obama’s legal lawyers were worse than President Bush’s. Much of their complaints are rooted in claims that the President is trying to win a losing battle– a battle with objectives that he has not clearly defined. Today, Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) sent President Obama a letter in which he wrote : “After 10 years and $443 billion, I believe it is time [to] focus our resources on rebuildingAmerica, not on rebuildingAfghanistan… It is time for the Afghan people to decide their destiny and take responsibility for governing themselves. … It is my hope that by redefining the mission inAfghanistan away from nation-building, you will pursue significant troop reductions immediately and end the scope of our current mission well before the 2014 deadline.”
Both parties feel completely free to attack the President on this issue because the American public has also turned against the war. In a recent Pew Poll, 56% of Americans said that they wanted to bring the troops home, a record number. Only 39% believed that troops should stay and continue their mission. These sentiments have been reflected in many other polls conducted in the last few months.
But here is the problem: Americans do not understand the mission inAfghanistan, which is why the American public wants us to leave. This is the fault of Presidents Bush and Obama. But President Obama is doing the right thing by pursuing a responsible withdrawal, rather than a rush to exit. If people would actually study what is happening inAfghanistan, learn the country’s history, and look carefully at what our political and military leaders have said about our mission there, then they would be less eager to see the troop abandonAfghanistanso quickly. As I’ve discussed in previous blog posts, the consequences of leavingAfghanistantoo quickly would be more dangerous than the consequences of theU.S.continuing its mission and pursing a responsible withdrawal. All one has to do is look at the two times that theU.S.abandonedAfghanistan. The first time was just after the Soviets fled Afghanistan, and we left the Afghans to a bloody civil war that resulted in nearly half a million people being killed and created a power vacuum that allowed the Taliban to come to power. The second time was in our rush to invade another country:Iraq. We ignoredAfghanistanand allowed the Taliban to regroup, train, and retake many parts of the country. Unfortunately, Americans are war weary and they do not care about any of this.
Perhaps they will keep this in mind the next time they decide to rush into war all jacked up on patriotic zeal… but I seriously doubt it.