White House Ducks Afghanistan Exit

It was difficult watching the Senate Armed Services Committee
confirmation hearing of General David Petraeus on Tuesday. The number one
line of questioning -- why the administration has established a date
certain to begin withdrawing US forces from Afghanistan. Why this line
of questioning? Because Republicans are enjoying putting the
administration on the defensive.

It was difficult watching the Senate Armed Services Committee
confirmation hearing of General David Petraeus on Tuesday. The number one
line of questioning -- why the administration has established a date
certain to begin withdrawing US forces from Afghanistan. Why this line
of questioning? Because Republicans are enjoying putting the
administration on the defensive.

It turns out that every time this issue is raised, the administration
goes into pretzel mode, bending and twisting its explanation of the
policy: This is NOT a withdrawal, it is just "the beginning" of a
"transition" that is a "gradual" "conditions based" "slope," not a
"cliff."

I have a recommendation to make to the Obama administration: get out of
the crouch position you are in on this issue and deliver a full-throated
explanation of why setting a date to begin getting our troops out of
Afghanistan is the right thing to do. And, while you're at it, lay out
what the exit strategy actually is, including when it will be completed.
Anything less contradicts what President Obama told a "60 Minutes"
audience on March 22, 2009: "And there's got to be an exit strategy.
There's got to be a sense that this is not perpetual drift." Or what he
told the cadets at West Point when he announced his Afghanistan strategy
last December: "That is why our troop commitment in Afghanistan
cannot be open-ended--because the nation I'm most interested in building
is our own."

As Tuesday's hearing demonstrated, things are getting out of hand. Senator
McCain made the curious claim that setting a date to begin withdrawing
forces will actually LENGTHEN the war. Why? Because it apparently
undermines our ability to convince Afghans to line up with us and not
the Taliban. After all, according to Senator McCain, all the Taliban has
to do is wait us out.

With all due respect, Senator McCain, unless the US plans to stay in
Afghanistan forever, the Taliban will be able to "wait
us out." They LIVE there. They are staying and we are going. Period.

I wonder if it has ever occurred to Senator McCain and his right-wing
allies that the most powerful recruitment claim of the Taliban is that
they are fighting not only a corrupt government but a foreign military
occupation. The larger our military footprint and the more open ended it
is, the stronger the Taliban's case to potential recruits in
Afghanistan. This could be why the Pentagon's latest quarterly progress
report to Congress noted that in contrast to the difficulties the Afghan
National Army has with recruitment and retention of new troops, the
Taliban has a ready supply of recruits.

If you have any doubts about the power of a military occupation to
recruit insurgents in Afghanistan, ask the Soviets.

Zamir Kabulov was a KGB agent stationed in Kabul during the Soviet
occupation. Mr. Kabulov went on to serve as the Russian ambassador to
Afghanistan. He told the New York Times that the US has
"already repeated all of our mistakes" and has moved on to making
mistakes of their own, "one's for which we do not own the copyright."
The single biggest mistake that the Soviets made, according to
Ambassador Kabulov, was letting the Soviet military footprint become too
large: "The more foreign troops you have roaming the country, the
more the irritative allergy toward them is going to be provoked."

By the time the current escalation is complete, there will be more ISAF
forces in Afghanistan than the Soviet Union had at the height of their
military occupation in the 1980s.

Nonetheless, the right-wing attack on the setting of a date for the
initiation of withdrawal of US forces has been relentless. And, it will
continue as long as the administration keeps in crouch mode. Here is an
exchange that Secretary Gates had with Senator Lieberman as he testified
before the Senate Armed Services Committee on December 2nd of last
year:

Sen. Lieberman: "July of 2011, is a transfer of security responsibility
to the Afghans but may not include, immediately a withdrawal of our
forces
from Afghanistan?

Gates: "..That is correct"

So, a time certain to begin the withdrawal of our forces from
Afghanistan may, in fact, NOT INCLUDE the withdrawal of our forces.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen, did his part
to "clarify" things in a television interview with al Jazeera just days
later when he emphatically declared when pressed on the issue: "Starting
is not a withdrawal!"

So, we are not withdrawing forces by starting a withdrawal of forces.

Got it?

Neither do I. And, neither will the American people unless President
Obama takes the reins from the Republicans and makes the case for doing
what most Americans agree needs to be done -- end an open ended military
commitment to the second most corrupt government on earth.