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Bipartisan Criticism of Obama Timeline for Afghanistan

At yesterday’s Senate hearing, both Sen. Carl Levin and Sen. John McCain heaped criticism on the management of the Afghan war. As this report makes clear, increasingly the spotlight is focused on Obama’s ill-fated decision to announce an unrealistic and counterproductive timeline for withdrawal of the troops:

The rising level of concern about the war effort in the U.S., shared by some military and civilian officials within the administration, is focusing increased attention on President Barack Obama’s decision to begin U.S. withdrawals in July 2011, always one of the most controversial aspects of his war plan.

Senior U.S. and Western officials acknowledged that they have done a poor job explaining to allies in the region that the U.S.-led coalition will remain committed to Afghanistan even as withdrawals begin next summer. One Western diplomat who has discussed the issue with the Obama administration said allies will attempt to make a stronger case in the coming months.

“Up until this point, I don’t think we have quite got that message across yet,” said the diplomat. “People are still focusing on July 2011 as an issue unto itself.”

That might be because the president made such a big deal of it and continued to emphasize after his West Point speech that he wasn’t enamored of “open-ended” commitments. But as conservative critics warned, that insistence has worked to the detriment of our war effort:

[C]urrent and former U.S. officials said there is increasing evidence that the short time frame is forcing the key actors in the war—particularly Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Pakistani military leadership—to begin cutting deals to ensure their position in Afghanistan, a process that may be exacerbating sectarianism in a country where the insurgency is dominated by the Pashtun majority. … Earlier, Gen. Petraeus appeared to struggle with whether withdrawals should begin in July 2011. Pressed by Mr. Levin whether it was his “best personal, professional judgment” that reductions should begin then, Gen. Petraeus paused for eight seconds before appearing to hedge, saying “we have to be careful with timelines.”

There is no way to “explain” the timeline that will improve this situation. Obama needs to lift it, announce we are in this for the long haul, and commit himself to victory. Anything less is dereliction of his duty as commander in chief to win on a battlefield he defined as critical to our national security.


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