One of the best bosses I’ve ever worked for, COL James Riley of the U.S. Army, used to say “there’s only so much you can do to keep a man with a loaded gun from shooting himself in the foot.” I was reminded of Jim Riley this weekend when Vice President Biden took unsteady aim and fired on the Administration’s newly-bandaged foot.
President Obama had done an awful lot of damage to his own strategy when he announced it in December of last year by insisting that the U.S. would begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in July of 2011. No one knowledgeable about Afghanistan believes the capacity can be built for significant transition by July 2011; it is a crassly political deadline that made more difficult persuading the governments and the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan to help us.
So transparently bad for the war effort was that deadline that Secretary Clinton, Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen all testified to Congress that it was notional and subject to conditions on the ground. The White House promptly issued a statement reiterating the deadline.
The Departments of State and Defense have spent a painstaking twelve months to get the White House committed to withdraw from Afghanistan only as our strategy achieves its objectives, and conveying that crucial message to both allies and enemies in the region. The Administration’s third Af-Pak review, announced earlier this week, committed the U.S. to prosecute the war at least until 2014, affirming that drawdowns will only occur as Afghans prove capable of doing the work now done by coalition forces.
Appearing on Meet the Press just after the Administration released its Afghanistan review, Biden said the reduction in forces this summer would be a significant drawdown, not a token reduction so that the President could be seen to be keeping his pledge without damaging the war effort. Which means the Administration is actually not committed to a conditions-based withdrawal.
Biden went further, too, saying “we're starting it in July of 2011, and we're going to be totally out of there come hell or high water by 2014.” Evidently the Administration learned nothing from digging itself out of the hole of the July 2011 deadline.
If Democrats wonder why the American public seems to distrust them on national security issues, it would be because leading Democrats like President Obama and Vice President Biden seem not to understand the issues.