July 1, 2011
Obama is pulling American troops out of Afghanistan. Or at least he says he is. He also said that American forces in Iraq are no longer there. Officially, the Iraq war is over, at least if you ignore the fighting. So where are the 45,000 soldiers based in Iraq if not in, well, Iraq?
According to a Brookings Institution report from late May, they’re in…Iraq.
Will the administration pull a similar act of verbal prestidigitation to keep troops in Afghanistan, given that they are the only barrier between Hamid Karzai’s unpopular government and the Taliban? If you read the press, Obama is heading for the exit:
USA Today, June 22:
“President Obama heralded the beginning of the end of the nation’s 10-year war in Afghanistan on Wednesday….”
New York Times headline, June 23:
“Obama Will Speed Military Pullout From Afghan War”
The Obama plan for Afghanistan, which may succumb to delays similar to the Iraqi pullout, calls for 33,000 soldiers to depart by September next year with the rest withdrawn at the end of 2014. If you believe that will happen on schedule, send me a check for $100 and I’ll sell you a new Rolls-Royce.
Only a few antiwar groups and media critics have pointed out the obvious: Since he became president, the Nobel Peace Prize winner has tripled the number of US troops in Afghanistan. From 34,000 soldiers in theater when he assumed office, he raised the total to 100,000 by 2010. Last year was also the one in which the cost of Afghan combat rose above that in Iraq.
Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting pointed out that with 100,000 troops and another 100,000 security contractors (whom Karzai is seeking to expel) in Afghanistan, “it’s hard to read a phased pullout of 30,000 out of 200,000 over the course of an entire year as a ‘rapid’ withdrawal.” This excludes 80,000 to 90,000 support troops in nearby countries. Yet if the media prove willing to describe such a mild pullback as a “withdrawal,” American voters may accept that the war in Afghanistan, like that in Iraq, is over. It won’t matter that the locals go on killing one another and American troops stand by to intervene when necessary.
Obama knows how to defuse antiwar sentiment. When pundits advised Lyndon Johnson to declare victory and leave Vietnam, LBJ didn’t listen and became too unpopular to stand for a second full term in 1968. Obama is taking the advice that LBJ ignored, but with a twist: He is declaring both victory and withdrawal without achieving either.
“Now, last night,” Obama told soldiers at Fort Drum, New York, the day after his June 22 policy announcement, “I gave a speech in which I said that we had turned a corner where we can begin to bring back some of our troops.” He did not say where and how that corner was turned, but the Obama Corner may be as elusive as Vietnam’s “light at the end of the tunnel.” No one who has spent time recently in Afghanistan believes for a moment that the Taliban is weaker or operates in a smaller territory than it did a year ago.
So it goes in Iraq and Afghanistan. What about Libya? Our humanitarian interventionists, who maintain as Hillary Clinton did that the war in Afghanistan is about building schools, are ignoring legal advice that the War Powers Act requires the president to seek Congressional approval for further engagement. The UN resolution empowered NATO to protect civilians; but France, Britain, and the US have gone one giant leap further and are now trying to force a regime change in Tripoli. Civilians are dying in greater numbers, and Gaddafi is holding out. Does that mean the US and its allies will go deeper into Libya, as they did in Afghanistan, until things are exactly as they want them? How long will that take, and how much will it cost? America’s mayors, who just voted a resolution calling for a withdrawal of money spent on foreign wars and diverted to their crumbling cities, would like to know the answer.