President Obama announced today that the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan will shrink to 9,800 by the end of this year and to essentially zero by the end of 2016. As reported by the Washington Post:
The 9,800 troops will be based around Afghanistan until the end of 2015, after which they will be reduced by roughly half and consolidated in Kabul and at the Bagram airfield north of the capital. At the end of 2016, most of those remaining troops will be withdrawn and the U.S. military presence will be confined to a defense group at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
The 9,800 number approaches what the military was asking for. But the specific timetable for essentially full withdrawal is surely the president’s handiwork, not the true desire of our commanders.
Obama explained, self-fulfillingly, that “this is how wars end in the 21st century.” They don’t end through “signing ceremonies.” Rather they end “through decisive blows against our adversaries, transitions to elected governments, and security forces trained to take the lead and ultimately full responsibility.”
These are reasonable criteria. The problem is that Obama does not peg full American withdrawal to their fulfillment. Rather he pegs full withdrawal — and the steps along the way — to predetermined dates.
Take, for example, the training-of-security-forces criterion. Obama clearly doesn’t believe the Afghan security forces are ready now to take “full responsibility.” Otherwise, he would have ordered full withdrawal of our troops this year, his criteria for ending the war having been met in his view (where, though, is the evidence of “decisive blows” against the Taliban?).
When will Afghan security forces be able to take full responsibility for fighting off the Taliban? Obama doesn’t know; no one does.
Yet Obama has set a fixed date for fully ending U.S. involvement in the Afghan war. As we have seen, this move cannot be defended under the terms Obama laid out for ending 21st century wars.
A better statement of how 21st century wars end under President Obama (and, one suspects, Democrats in general) would be that they end as soon as the president believes he can end them without politically harmful blowback and no later than dates that are predetermined by the political calendar.