The nation’s two highest-ranking military commanders have gone on record raising serious concerns about President Obama’s flawed plan to bring 33,000 troops home from Afghanistan by September 2012. The outgoing Commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, said during Senate hearings last week that the troop withdrawal was “a more aggressive formulation…than what we had recommended.”
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen echoed Petraeus when he noted the danger in moving U.S. troops out of Afghanistan too quickly, saying it will “incur more risk than I was originally prepared to accept.”
While the President is Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, heeding wise counsel from his most senior military commanders is part of fulfilling that role. The President is under political pressure from his liberal base to withdraw troops and wind down the Afghan war as next year’s election inches closer. His announcement last week reveals he is basing the Afghan troop decision more on the domestic political calendar than the goal of achieving U.S. objectives there.
Ironically, this hasty drawdown did not even satisfy that liberal base. Members of his own party, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D–CA) and Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D–CA), criticized the pullout as too slow.
President Obama was right to authorize the surge of 30,000 additional troops into Afghanistan in December 2009, but he needs to allow the majority of surge troops to stay until at least the end of the 2012 fighting season, according to the advice of his military commanders. Petraeus called the coalition’s recent battlefield gains in southern Afghanistan “fragile” and noted that “more force for more time is without doubt the safer course.”
Outgoing Pentagon Chief Robert Gates has said that waning public support for the war played into the President’s decision-making process. However, Obama made no effort to inform the American people about the potential dangers involved in leaving Afghanistan before the mission is complete. As President, Obama has an obligation to protect U.S. national security and make war-time decisions—based not on public polling but on the long-term interest of protecting the American people.
President Obama is also seeking to use the killing of Osama bin Laden to justify the accelerated troop drawdown. This is short-sighted. As Heritage policy analyst James Carafano warned:
Now is the wrong time to take the foot off the pedal in the effort to crush the transnational terrorist threats aimed at the United States and its friends and allies. There is important work for Washington to do to ensure that the likes of al-Qaeda never threaten Americans with the likes of 9/11 again.
…The long war is not won. The United States and its friends and allies can win, but it requires continued courage and commitment like that demonstrated by American armed forces.
By pulling troops too soon and leaving Afghanistan in a vulnerable state, President Obama risks allowing the country to return to its status as a safe haven for terrorists intent on attacking America. Instead of squandering the battlefield gains the U.S. has made in Afghanistan over the last 10 months, President Obama should follow the advice of his military leaders to give them more time to solidify progress and achieve U.S. objectives.
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