Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney wasted no time in intimating that it was politics more than necessity that prompted President Obama's cautious phased drawdown of US forces in Afghanistan. Romney's gentle knock that it was politics not pragmatism of Obama was tame compared to other GOP critics who accused the president of playing politics with American lives in Afghanistan, compromising the security of American forces there, and subverting the training and security capacity of the Afghan police and military to maintain order in the country. And worst of all, asserting that the troop reduction emboldened the Taliban to step up its war against US forces. The criticism is as wrongheaded as the insidious political motives of Romney and the GOP critics for making the criticism.
Obama is the last one that the GOP could gripe about when it comes to the willingness to use American might in Afghanistan. He has never shirked from that. Just ask Obama's Democratic critics. For the past year they have loudly demanded that Obama get the troops out and get them out fast from Afghanistan. They have penned countless resolutions, declarations, statements, and convened party confabs, all hammering Obama on the Afghan build-up and continued bankroll of billions for a war whose aim of total victory is still mushy, unattainable, and a massive drain on the budget and the economy.
Polls consistently show that a majority of Americans also consider the war endless, futile and a massive drain on the economy. So the criticism that Obama is playing politics with his modest withdrawal of troops, or that he's not getting the troops out fast enough, seems even more far-fetched. The premise of both the GOP and the Democratic critics is that politics is the driving force behind Obama's resolve to press the war.
Long before Obama won the White House, he made it clear that he thought the Afghan war was the right war, in the right place at the right time. That was in stark contrast to his view of the Iraq war. He clearly saw waging war in Afghanistan as of critical importance to U.S. security.
In an August 2007 speech at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, in Washington, D.C., Obama left no doubt that Afghanistan would be his number one priority. He made an impassioned promise to wage what he dubbed the war that had to be won.
Spelling out in minute detail his plan of attack, Obama vowed to drastically increase troop strength; ramp up spending on an array of military-related programs, such as mobile special-forces, pacification teams and intelligence operations; and to beef up military aid to Pakistan. He vowed to take the war to the Taliban in Northwest Pakistan. In a CBS Face the Nation interview the same year, he promised to "finish the job" in Afghanistan.
Even as he promised to set a firm timetable for eventual withdrawal from Iraq, he gave no timetable for a similar withdrawal from Afghanistan. He did just the opposite. He vowed to end corruption, hold free elections, bolster Afghan security forces, boost intelligence gathering and monitoring, beef up Afghan security forces, and ensure a stable government in Afghanistan.
He took much heat for it then and the temperature level went up even higher after he upped the ante in the number of ground forces in the country his first year in office. Obama heard and ignored the Democrats that pounded him even harder for his decision to escalate. The killing of bin Laden didn't change Obama's view that the war still had to be prosecuted for all of the strategic reasons that he has repeatedly talked about for the past three years.
Given Obama's unrelenting commitment to the war and its aims, as problematic as it is of completely achieving those aims, his withdrawal of troops, any troops, from the country has to be considered a move in the right direction. It shows that he is willing to buck hard line conservatives and many in the military that scream that any drawdown of troops is a prescription for defeat. It also finally puts him firmly on the path to doing what Democrats insist that he do and that he bring the war to a final close.
Obama understood that the Iraq war was an ugly and shameful page in U.S. history and that millions of Americans were furious and frustrated by it. The same can be said of the Afghan war. And there have been no shortage of Obama war critics to make that point. Now they're at least getting him to take the first step that they wanted and that's begin the troop withdrawal. If that's what's considered playing politics with the war, then it's the right kind of politics.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour on KTYM Radio Los Angeles streamed on ktym.com podcast on blogtalkradio.com and internet TV broadcast on thehutchinsonreportnews.com