Gen. Petraeus's Nation-Building Media Tour

"That's why our troop commitment in Afghanistan
cannot be open-ended -- because the nation that I'm most interested in building
is our own."

That was the commitment President Obama made when he
announced the military escalation of American troops in Afghanistan before an
audience of cadets at West Point last year. That was then, this is now. The
media tour that General David Petraeus embarked on this week demonstrates that
a withdrawal is, in fact, fully underway - not of US troops from
Afghanistan, but rather, of the president's assurance that we do not have
an open ended military commitment to the Karzai government in Afghanistan. The Petraeus
media tour is making it crystal clear - July 2011 is more political gesture
than time-frame for the withdrawal of US forces.

Times have changed considerably since Vice President Biden
put an exclamation point on the administration's July 2011 withdrawal date
when he said that you could "bet on it" that a
"substantial" number of US troops would be heading home next July.

"The president did not send me over here to seek a
graceful exit", General Petraeus told the New York Times this week. And,
"certainly yes", he told David Gregory when asked on Meet the Press
if he may very well recommend that the president not withdraw a single US
soldier in July 2011 if he did not believe that conditions warranted it.

For weeks administration officials, including Secretary of
Defense Gates, have marched to Capitol Hill to assure lawmakers that the July
2011 "withdrawal" date is really no such thing. The withdrawal of
our forces will be based on "conditions" not a time-frame, they
repeated. As long as certain conditions exist on the ground in Afghanistan, we
will continue to have troops there. There is no deadline. Our military
commitment to Afghanistan is open.

"This is a date when a process begins that is
conditions-based", Petraeus explained to David Gregory on Meet the Press,
"And as the conditions permit, we transition tasks to our Afghan
counterparts and the security forces and various governmental institutions, and
that enables a, quote, "responsible" drawdown of our forces."

As he spoke, I began reading a front page story in Sunday's
Washington Post describing how security conditions in the once stable northern
Afghanistan are deteriorating rapidly. I thought about the inconvenient truths
highlighted by the military documents released by Wikilinks: the poor state of
the Afghan army despite a $27 billion US investment in their training; the
endemic level of corruption in the Afghan government that costs the citizens of
the fifth poorest country on earth one billion dollars per year in bribes; the
funneling of US funds to the Taliban via our "allies" in the
Pakistani intelligence agency, the ISI. Not to worry, the General assured the
Washington Post, there are "incipient signs of progress" in
Afghanistan. Which brought to mind the assurances of another American General,
William Westmorland, who told a skeptical American public more than four
decades ago that "peace is at hand" in Viet Nam.

Americans are turning against nation building half way
around the world at a price of over $100 billion a year and thousands of US
soldiers lives. An NBC-Wall Street Journal poll released last week shows that
the number of Americans who have a favorable view of the President's
Afghanistan policy has dropped by nine points since the spring. A
majority of House Democrats voted last month to require that the administration
come up with an exit strategy with clear goals, objectives and a specific
time-frame. Not a single member of the House Democratic leadership took to the
floor to defend the president's Afghanistan policy during the debate over
the administration's Supplemental Appropriation request of more than $30
billion more for the war in Afghanistan.

General Petraeus has been called upon to divide his time and
attention between winning hearts and minds in Afghanistan and winning hearts
and minds among the American electorate. It is probably no coincidence that he
is doing so in the midst of dropping poll numbers for the
administration's policy and the toughest electoral climate for Democrats
since 1994. Unemployment is at 9 1/2 percent here at home and last week's
jobless claims spiked upward.

The fact is that you can either have a scheduled withdrawal
or a conditions based withdrawal of military forces from Afghanistan. You
can't have both, notwithstanding the parsing of words by General Petraeus
and the Obama administration. The president had it right the first time: Close
the open ended military commitment to the Karzai government in Afghanistan.
Particularly if the nation he is really most interested in building is his own.

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