Obama’s timeline for the withdrawal of troops has been roundly criticized by conservatives as well as responsible Democrats like Sen. Diane Feinstein. Gen. David Petraeus and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates have been prevailed upon to fall in line with the president. But not the Marine commandant. He has the luxury of speaking his mind, for he is on the verge of retirement:
[R]etiring General James Conway said he believed Marines would not be in a position to withdraw from the fight in Southern Afghanistan for years, even though he acknowledged that Americans were growing “tired” of the 9-year-old war.
Conway’s unusually blunt assessment is likely to fan criticism of Obama’s war strategy ahead of U.S. congressional elections in November, as public opinion of the conflict sours further and casualties rise.
“In some ways, we think right now it is probably giving our enemy sustenance,” Conway, the Marine Corps’ commandant, said of the July 2011 deadline.
“In fact we’ve intercepted communications that say, ‘Hey, you know, we only need to hold out for so long.’” …
Conway, quoting one of his own commanders, told reporters: “We can either lose fast or win slow.”
If that is accurate — and we have no reason to doubt that it is — then the president has inexcusably endangered our troops, made the American war effort more difficult, and refused, despite available evidence, to reverse himself.
The error in strategy should have been corrected long ago, and it is important for congressional oversight committees to probe the evidence to which Conway refers. The president, however, can still do the right thing:
The timetable for withdrawal is certain to come under close scrutiny in a White House strategy review in December, which Obama called for last year when he announced the July 2011 deadline and 30,000 additional forces.
“We know the president was talking to several audiences at the same time when he made his comments on July 2011,” Conway told reporters at the Pentagon.
“Though I certainly believe that some American units somewhere in Afghanistan will turn over responsibilities to Afghanistan security forces in 2011, I do not think they will be Marines.”
Conway is certainly accurate about the West Point rollout speech, in which Obama simultaneously tried to follow his military leaders’ advice about the deployment of more troops and to satisfy the left wing of his party (no “open-ended commitments” for them). That’s no way to win a war and a disservice to the troops who are risking life and limb. Obama is especially loath to admit error, but in this case there is no alternative if he intends to fulfill his responsibilities as commander in chief.