President Obama's speech in front of the cadets at West Point, who maybe marching off to Afghanistan to lead other young soldiers soon, left many sick to their stomachs. In this speech, the President tried to navigate the treacherous waters between the Scylla of the likes of Michael Moore and the Charybdis of those on the side of Generals Petraeus and McChrystal in an attempt to partially please everyone. As President, Obama stands in charge of the rudder.
General McChrystal wanted at least 40,000 boots on the ground within a year if he stood a chance of turning the dire situation around. The clock for this plan started when it landed on the President's desk three months ago. So now President Obama wants to send 30,000 American soldiers plus hoped for allied troops to this theatre. And it will take even more months for all these soldiers to arrive. Because the President took his deliberative time to arrive at a perfect plan, he puts Petraeus and McChrystal in a time bind of trying to do more with fewer troops in less time.
As if this was not enough to cause heartburn among the cadets and cadre at West Point, President Obama kept kayaking through these treacherous waters. He said the surge troops will start to pull out in mid-2011, with a tiny caveat of if the situation warrants the troops will stay longer.
Taken together, the message to ally and foe is clear. The message being President Obama is not serious in prosecuting the war in Afghanistan to a victory for the people of Afghanistan and the United States. As if this is a surprise since the President has previously stated he is uncomfortable with the word victory. Sic transit pax Americana.
President Lincoln, when pressed on why he would not fire General U.S. Grant for the casualties he generated, only said that Grant was his only general willing to fight. Gen. McClellan, in contrast, always waited until all conditions were favorable for him, hence Gen. Robert E. Lee of the Confederacy always stole the march on McClellan and defeated him in battle after battle. Or lets look at General George S. Patton who observed, "A good plan executed violently now is better than a perfect plan next week." So using history as a guide, what President Obama presented is neither a clarion call to victory nor is it a perfect plan.
I have seen some people making analogies of this speech to Vietnam as in when President Nixon started to turn things over to the Republic of South Vietnam. They actually have the wrong president in mind. As Obama continues to desperately navigate all these treacherous waters he finds himself in, we must look at Lyndon Baines Johnson who inherited Vietnam from Kennedy. The US in 1963 had destabilized South Vietnam by helping others in that government and military to overthrow Diem. This resulted in Diem and his brother being murdered on November 1, 1963. And until Ngyuen Cao Ky became President of South Vietnam, rumours of coups were always in the air which limited how effective the government was in resisting Viet Cong and North Vietnamese attacks. The Obama administration by trying to isolate the less than perfect Karzai government has been following in the Kennedy footsteps of undercutting an ally because that ally is not perfect enough. So Obama has seen Karzai ally himself with even less welcome elements, but can one blame Karzai when Obama does not even talk to him personally like President Bush did? In Vietnam, a government descending into being a junta might be ignored except for one thing - Gulf of Tonkin Incident. Two American warships, including Turner Joy, reported they were being attacked by North Vietnamese torpedo boats at night. This resulted in President Johnson sending thousands upon thousands of American soldiers to South Vietnam to help that country resist. And then we get to Robert Strange McNamara, who in conjunction with President Johnson, micro-managed the war from Washington D.C. with insane rules of engagement like American jets could not attack a SAM site until it fired upon them or restricting how those jets could attack targets. At one point President Johnson boasted they could not bomb an outhouse in Vietnam without his approval. In hindsight, Johnson had no real plan to win in Vietnam. He was fighting for the status quo and hoping the other side would give up. It would take President Nixon doing things like mining the harbor at Haiphong, the relentless attacks of B-52s under Linebacker to make North Vietnam to negotiate in good faith, and actually building a government and country to resist communist aggression that turned things around. The Easter Offensive of 1972 that was launched by North Vietnam was beat back by ARVN military forces with American air support. The same would have probably happened in 1975 when North Vietnam invaded their southern neighbor again, but a democrat controlled Congress betrayed solemn commitments and let South Vietnam fall.
Whether Obama and his administration will try to micro-manage Afghanistan remains to be seen. But by trying to stave off defeat with the least effort as outlined in his recent speech, President Obama might be setting the stage for a possible Dien Bien Phu followed by more people scrambling to escape a country falling to the forces of tyranny. So Obama and his strategy may fall victim to both Charybdis and Scylla. Alas if he fails, many people will also suffer. So let us all hope Obama changes course again. This time to a course to victory.