The Democrats have designated Afghanistan a permanent lost cause—and a useful one. As long as they can cite the Afghanistan war as a noble fight tragically abandoned for Bush’s misguided Iraq adventure, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have no need of a victory plan for the first battle in the global war on terror. This is convenient, as neither candidate has such a plan.
For the Democratic frontrunners, Afghanistan is not the proving ground of democratic revolution or American military forbearance, but a necessary talking point on the anti-Bush campaign trail. Any Democratic plan for military victory in Afghanistan is predicated on getting out of Iraq first. Viability notwithstanding.
Take, for example, this excerpt from an August 2007 Barack Obama speech entitled, too perfectly, “The War We Need to Win”:
The first step must be getting off the wrong battlefield in Iraq, and taking the fight to the terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
I introduced a plan in January that would have already started bringing our troops out of Iraq, with a goal of removing all combat brigades by March 31, 2008. If the President continues to veto this plan, then ending this war will be my first priority when I take office.
We are now a mere forty-two days away from the date on which Barack Obama’s “plan” would have removed U.S. forces from Iraq. Forget the moral and strategic implications of abandoning that struggling populace to the forces of Muqtada al-Sadr, al Qaeda, and hopeful Ba’athists; Obama’s fast-track to surrender is a logistical non-starter (as he well knows, evidenced by his recent hedging on troop withdrawal). If his “first step” in winning a live war is built on sheer fiction, consider the ongoing implications of such a wartime commander-in-chief.
More recently, the Clinton plan offers to move 3,500 ground troops from Iraq to Afghanistan. She could get some credit for using real world numbers, but 3,500 troops is actually the kind of build-up that the American and British governments routinely authorize without needing to siphon fighters from Iraq. Clinton’s plan is merely another symbol in the “Bush left Afghanistan for Iraq” narrative.
The Democrats’ Afghanistan plans all begin with troop withdrawal. We will have reached an important phase when we can properly rotate victorious troops out of Iraq and into Afghanistan, but to hang hopes of Afghan progress on surrender in Iraq is irresponsible. The war in Afghanistan is going on as I write this, and it can’t wait on the Democrats’ increasingly hazy formulations for troop withdrawal in Iraq. The broad, rhetorical campaign promises must contend with the reality on the ground. As Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have tied their Afghanistan policies to an untenable precondition, they must be confronted about how they really intend to win what they consider to be the good war.