Andrew Exum (aka Abu Muqawama) at the Center for a New American Security isn’t exactly going out on a limb when he says Vice President Joe Biden has terrible message discipline. “We’re starting this process [of withdrawal from Afghanistan],” Biden said on Meet the Press, “just like we did in Iraq. 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.”
“It became immediately clear,” Exum wrote, “to pretty much everyone but a few folks who think of only winning another election in 2012 that the president’s 1 December 2009 declaration that U.S. troops would begin a withdrawal from Afghanistan in July 2011 was a terrible mistake: the message may have reassured a domestic audience, but it was exactly the wrong thing to tell the Taliban, the Pakistanis, and the Afghan people. You need to be telling the latter audiences, for a wide variety of reasons, that U.S. support for Afghanistan will be enduring. You are simply not going to make any progress on the president’s policy aims if everyone in Afghanistan and Pakistan thinks you are headed for the exits.”
Following up on Max’s commentary from yesterday, I’m not sure why this isn’t obvious even to party leaders who are more worried about re-election than anything else. How can any president of either political party be expected to win an election after losing a war, especially a defensive war that began in New York and Washington?
I, too, would the like the war in that country to be over yesterday, but let’s not kid ourselves: we don’t get to withdraw under fire and let the Taliban take over again and call it a draw. We certainly couldn’t call that a win. Not every war has a victor, but every war has at least one loser — and it would not be the Taliban if we give up and they manage to reconquer the country.
The Obama administration does need to say something reassuring to those of us who are sick of this war whether we support withdrawal or not, and it’s not that difficult, really, to think of something to say to make voters feel better without boosting the morale of the Taliban.
Instead of saying “we’re going to be totally out of there come hell or high water by 2014,” as Biden did, try this: “We will destroy the Taliban in short order and end this once and for all.” Maybe we can’t win that war. I don’t know. But I do know that the odds of our losing are higher if the president and vice president tell the Taliban we’re willing to lose because we are tired. We need, instead, to exhaust them and to convince them they’re better off quitting.