The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Adam Garfinkle on Obama’s Blunders in Afghanistan and the Middle East

Fellow AI editor and blogger Adam Garfinkle has long been critical of the Obama Administration’s policies in Libya and Syria, and he recently offered some sage advice for policymakers working on Afghanistan: Look before you leap. His advice does not paint a pretty picture for the future of Afghanistan.

[T]he entire enterprise of responsible U.S. and allied withdrawal depends on the fiction that the Afghan National Army and police are capable of defending the regime in Kabul from its enemies. (And it is a fiction—see the September/October 2011 TAI essay by Alim Remtullah if you really want to understand why.) . . .

The only problem with how Obama has played the game thus far is that he’s now ceded the initiative to a select group of top Taliban commanders. He has to hope that his decent interval lasts at least until early November. Since we’re not withdrawing beyond a point of no return until after the election, this hope can be backed by combat force if need be. But if the appearance of a responsible and orderly withdrawal is foiled by aggressive and successful Taliban tactics this summer and into the fall—or if the Karzai regime implodes for any number of imaginable reasons—then the President is going to have a real problem on his hands. With just a little luck, these guys could drain the pool while the Administration is in mid-swan dive.

Read the whole thing. Garfinkle details what seems to be a lack of careful, long-term strategic thinking among our current Middle East policymakers. Once upon a time, he writes, strategists and statesmen tried to anticipate several moves ahead of their rivals, as in chess. Today, “Barack Obama may indeed be playing a kind of chess, but it’s a match that seems to me to have only a little to do with U.S. foreign policy and national security concerns.”

Published on May 29, 2012 5:00 pm
  • http://inthisdimension.com alex scipio

    If Obama’s crew have done ANY “carefule long term planning” in ANY area it sure isn’t obvious to the interested observer, let alone the casual observer. Everything he has touched has turned to dross.

  • http://facingzionwards.blogspot.com/ Luke Lea

    Surely even the Taliban is smart enough to wait until after the election. Obama’s error — if it was an error — was to cast Afghanistan as the “good” war as a way of covering his ass (showing he’s not a pacifist) to get out of the “bad” one in Iraq.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    “Once upon a time, he writes, strategists and statesmen tried to anticipate several moves ahead of their rivals, as in chess. Today, “Barack Obama may indeed be playing a kind of chess, but it’s a match that seems to me to have only a little to do with U.S. foreign policy and national security concerns.””

    I don’t know how this blog reconciles the obvious incompetence of the Obama administration’s foreign policy everywhere, with the credit it gives them for the Asian pivot. I submit that the Asian pivot was a case of the Obama administration being dragged kicking and screaming into position by our allies and trading partners in Asia, who have been frightened into action by China’s belligerence.

    Ask yourself which is more likely? That the incompetent and kowtowing Obama Administration is suddenly showing evidence of brilliance, or that the Asians acting in their own best interest have forced the Asian pivot on a reluctant Obama who would have preferred to do nothing.

  • http://thepencilofnature.net Lorenz Gude

    I haven’t felt optimistic about Afghanistan since about 2004 when Michael Yon reported that we ere doing nothing to stop the growing of poppies. It isn’t looking any better now.

  • Brendan Doran

    Obama is right to disengage, and Bush was wrong to approach this other than a punitive expedition. We shouldn’t mount one more patrol for these scum. If they touch us again horrific punitive measures. a la Fort Mims.

  • Jack

    Obama is not playing chess, he is playing “foreign policy” as a re-election strategy.

    And playing badly. Just as Mead often does, the Obama administration fails to appreciate that Islam is not peaceful, that it does not promote human rights and that it does not see any advantage in diversity or equality of the sexes.

  • fred17

    Afghanistan has never been a nation in any real sense. We’re not about to establish one in our lifetimes. Obama has no strategy of any kind except campaigning for reelection.

  • Those weren’t bran muffins, Brainiac…

    The moment we decided to try to fight “limited war” was when we lost. Morally, we need to be all-in-to-win to get out.

    Anything else is a heinous waste of lives on both sides.

  • Those weren’t bran muffins, Brainiac…

    Sorry, that should have read “all-in-to-win OR get out.”

  • willis

    “We shouldn’t mount one more patrol for these scum. If they touch us again horrific punitive measures. a la Fort Mims.”

    Exactly, we should shake our fists at them, then sing “Give me a chance!” Stand back and see them humbled into submission.

  • Sam L.

    Expecting the Taliban to behave rationally…
    Nope, can’t see that. Admittedly, they might, but I see them as opportunistic, and opportunities are everywhere.

  • Morton Doodslag

    Afghanistan has always been a titanic blunder – not the bombing part – but the nation building part. Muslims will always hate us – it’s in their bloody religion. But it takes a moron of giant proportions to promise to end a war for craven political gain. Obama is a far worse menace to American interests than even al Qaida. If al Qaida had a US president in their pocket, he’d look exactly like Barack Hussein Obama.

  • Whitehall

    Garfinkle doesn’t come across as much of a Jacksonian, although he tries.

    My heart goes out to the military people and their families. They are the Americans who have suffered the most from Obama’s cynical posturing about Afghanistan. Little wonder that veterans are so skewed towards Romney.

    Bush and Cheney had it right – remove the Taliban and prevent their return – those are the achievable goals and ones adequate for America’s security.

  • RebeccaH

    Obama’s sole focus is on getting reelected for a second term (and, cynic that I am, I believe if someone proposed lifting term limits for the presidency, he’d be all for that). He had no foreign policy experience when he came in, which could be forgiven if he had been willing to learn, but he doesn’t seem interested in anything outside his own narrow domestic concerns. That makes things very dangerous for the nation in this, the unstable circumstances of a post-Cold War world. The upshot is, we will probably pay dearly in treasury and precious American blood for his inability to adapt.

  • rkka

    Pathetic.

    Mead, a cheerleader for the diversion of resources from Afghanistan to Iraq (which was the decision that lost the Afghan war) bloviates about Obama’s “blunders” in a war Dubya lost.

  • Kris

    rkka@15: If i understand you correctly, you are claiming that Obama has been unnecessarily wasting many American lives in a war that was already lost?