We are witnessing a slow, steady retreat from victory in the Middle East and, I fear, a prelude to significantly more conflict down the road and the unfortunate loss of more American lives. Why? Because of the political imperative of troop withdrawals to accommodate the political timeline of the Obama administration.
Is there another possible rationale for an announcement now of additional withdrawals in Afghanistan in 2013? This policy flies in the face of the pressing need for a more assertive stance with Pakistan and will clearly result in the latter’s further questioning of America’s will in the region. Yet we get the following comment from a White House spokesman: “We have been very clear that we do not seek permanent bases in Afghanistan or a long-term military presence there that would be a threat to Afghanistan’s neighbors.” What does this mean? Look at the neighborhood–Central Asian states plus China, Iran, Pakistan. How can it not be in our strategic interest to have a long-term commitment there, particularly when there is a very high risk of their return to failed-state status?
Then there is our premature and unwise military departure from Iraq. Here we have the obsession of Obama to atone for the sins of the original engagement and for its implications for him of the image and legacy of colonialism. Again we provide evidence of our fecklessness and lack of will in the region, severely damage the progress that has been made to establish a viable state, invite Iran and other subversives to foment civil war, and worse, we show complete disdain for the sacrifice of thousands of American troops who produced victory when all seemed lost before “the surge”. And, as John McCain has pointed out, this withdrawal will have serious consequences for Afghanistan as well, providing plenty of doubts on the part of both friends and enemies about our willingness to honor our commitments there.
The announcement this week of the administration’s plan for “a leaner, cheaper military” only compounds the problem and further confuses the message with phrases like “the tide of war is over” and “the question this strategy answers is what kind of military we will need after the long wars of the last decade are over”. Is this the President’s “mission accomplished” banner?
Of course, this flawed policy is designed to appease the American left (along with Ron Paul and his followers who can be disruptive within the GOP) and any downside will be laid at the feet of the “original sins” of the Bush administration, but I wonder how much longer this President can avoid ownership of and accountability for what is very likely to be a failed Middle East policy. The answer probably depends on the immediate prospects for the threat from Iran, and after the recent policy decisions we should know the answer very soon.