The situation in Afghanistan is quickly deteriorating, as President Obama has confirmed that U.S. troops will depart “on schedule.” The loss of the Afghan war dates back to December 1, 2009 when President Obama announced a timeline for withdrawal. Telegraphing to enemies how long they must last before you throw in the towel is never wise. The logic that planting firm deadlines would force Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his cronies to take responsibility for the war shows the arrogance of Obama’s Afghanistan team. After all, Afghanistan is not a petulant child, and there are other players in the sandbox beyond the United States and Afghanistan. Afghans are survivors, and all Obama accomplished was convincing them that it was time to pivot away from NATO and into the welcoming hands of Pakistan, Iran, or the Taliban.
Obama should have known better. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak made a similar mistake when he announced ahead of time, for purely political reasons, a withdrawal date to end Israel’s presence in southern Lebanon. Rather than end Hezbollah’s pretext for war, he simply enabled the terrorist group to expand its claims into the Shebaa Farms/Har Dov, if not the Galilee. What Barak saw as an honorable end to a war turned into a “Mission Accomplished” moment that empowered Hezbollah and led directly to renewed military conflict there just six years later.
The same pattern also applies to Vietnam. The North Vietnamese were close to throwing in the towel when the Nixon administration did it first, announcing the American path to withdrawal. With the slow-motion collapse of Marxism, it’s easy to shrug one’s shoulders today, but the fall of South Vietnam was, for millions, a human tragedy.
Those arguing that the trajectory in Afghanistan is positive are not seeing the forest through the trees. The problem has never been American forces, however, but rather an insurmountable obstacle needlessly created by navel-gazing politicians. The Afghanistan mission is essential, and the United States will pay the price for Afghanistan’s reversion to civil war, if not Taliban control. Terrorists love a vacuum, and that is what President Obama promised them. If there is any silver-lining to the Afghan fiasco, however, it should be to put to rest the notion once and for all that political timelines and battlefield metrics are interchangeable.