Commentary Magazine


Obama Didn’t Owe Taliban a Victory Plan

Yesterday, at the annual convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, President Obama did his best to defend his foreign policy record as well as to denigrate Mitt Romney’s positions despite never mentioning his name. Though much of the speech was the usual tribute to veterans delivered by public officials at such events, Obama was at pains to refute the one specific criticism that Romney has made about the administration’s conduct in Afghanistan. Obama claimed that his announcement of a withdrawal date for American troops there was necessary because, “When you’re commander in chief, you owe the troops a plan. You owe the country a plan.”

But as with much of Obama’s laundry list of alleged accomplishments, this assertion leaves out the messy details about what happens when you announce in advance when you’re going to bug out of a war: the enemy finds out along with the American people. The Taliban may have been pushed back during the surge the president ordered, but he let them know all they had to do was survive until U.S. troops pulled out in order to prevail. As is the case in Iraq where, against the advice of many of his own advisers, the president withdrew all American forces, he is confusing U.S. withdrawal with the end of the war. The timeline he defended doesn’t conclude the conflict; it gave the Islamist foes who are seeking to reverse the hard-fought victories gained by U.S. troops confidence that they would win out due to the president’s lack of staying power.

While the president covered himself with praise for his “leadership” abroad, an honest look at the situations he touted as illustrating his genius paints a different picture.

Rather than his “leadership” on the nuclear threats from North Korea and Iran showing the administration’s strength, it demonstrates the feckless reliance on failed diplomacy. North Korea successfully bamboozled the Clinton and Bush administrations into deals that allowed them to go nuclear. Iran is following the same pattern. The sanctions that Obama reluctantly and belatedly imposed on Tehran are riddled with exemptions and non-enforcement. As even some of his more candid admirers admit, the president’s only strategy is to kick the can down the road until after he is re-elected, when he might have the “flexibility” to avoid keeping his promise to prevent Iran from gaining nukes.

The hallmark of Obama’s foreign policy has been undermining allies such as Israel, Britain and Poland (not by coincidence, the three nations Romney will visit this week).

As for standing for freedom abroad, it has been a generation since there has been a president who was less interested in promoting human rights than Obama. His favorite tactic of “leading from behind” — a phrase he avoided in his VFW speech — has allowed Syria to disintegrate into chaos and presents a danger to the entire Middle East. The toppling of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, the one instance where his tactic can be said to have worked, has led to trouble in neighboring Mali.

Nevertheless, no part of his speech was as disingenuous as his claim that he has strengthened the military. His budget cuts are gutting the capabilities of our armed forces. For him to blame these policies on the budget standoff with congressional Republicans is the height of chutzpah. The game of chicken he’s been playing with the GOP has led to the sequestration disaster that will hurt defense. But even without that dangerous tactic that he pursued for partisan purposes, the intent of his administration to downgrade defense was already clear. Indeed, he said as much in his speech when he spoke of a mythical post-Iraq and Afghanistan peace dividend he claims will pay down the deficit.

For Obama, even the most serious questions of war and peace always boil down to partisan politics. While Romney has much to prove when it comes to foreign policy (he will be speaking at the same convention this afternoon), Obama’s demonstrated lack of leadership provides his opponent plenty of room for justified criticism.