Congressional Democrats and their Republican counterparts don’t agree about much these days, but there is bipartisan consensus when it comes to the results of President Obama’s Afghan policy. After visiting Afghanistan on a fact-finding mission last week, Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Republican Rep. Mike Rogers – leaders of the Senate and House intelligence committees, respectively – both concluded that the Taliban has grown stronger since Obama sent 33,000 troops into Afghanistan in 2010.
Obama too visited Afghanistan recently, though not on a fact-finding mission. During the visit, he declared that “in the pre-dawn darkness of Afghanistan, we can see the light of a new day on the horizon.” Unfortunately, that new day will be brighter for the Taliban than for its enemies.
But is the Obama administration among the Taliban’s serious enemies? According to the Washington Post, the U.S. “for several years” has been releasing high level detainees from a military prison in Afghanistan as part of negotiations with insurgent groups including, apparently, the Taliban. In exchange, the released prisoners, often “notorious fighters,” promise to give up violence. In addition, the U.S. hopes to placate local insurgent leaders, who often hand-pick the fighters that will be released.
Unfortunately, insurgent leaders apparently have been unmoved by Obama’s generosity. They are demanding the release of five detainees from Guantanamo Bay. As for the promises by released fighters to renounce violence, our experience with the Gitmo releases shows how meaningless these statements are. It is the Obama administration, not the “notorious fighters” who will be abandoning the struggle in Afghanistan.
No wonder Obama’s surge has produced bipartisan consenus as to its futility. Not only did we notify the other side in advance of the limits of our resolve, we have provided ongoing reassurance of it by releasing the most committed captured enemy fighters — those important enough to make lists provided by the putative enemy.
The surge has given the U.S. and Afghanistan the worst of both worlds – three or four years of extra fighting by U.S. troops, followed by the triumph of the insurgents. However, the surge has given Obama personally two pretty good worlds. It made him look like a leader willing to use force to make good on his promise to focus on Afghanistan as the major theater in the fight against terrorism. Meanwhile, its underlying lack of seriousness put Obama in position to gain politically by ending an unpopular war.
Maybe that’s what they mean by “smart power.”