Mr. Obama essentially has admitted defeat. He has publicly announced that U.S. forces will begin to pull out and that the process will be accelerated by the summer of 2012 - just in time for the election campaign. The administration has set a definite timetable for the American drawdown. In 2014, the transfer of responsibility for fighting from NATO to the Afghan government will be completed. The troops finally are coming home.
However, it is too little, too late. Mr. Obama has mismanaged and bungled the Afghan campaign. He ordered the “surge” of 33,000 U.S. troops in the hope of repeating the success in Iraq. Yet there was one major difference: He never defined victory. Instead, he saddled our forces with strict rules of engagement that made success on the battlefield impossible. The U.S. military was reduced to the Peace Corps with guns. Its strategic mission was not to smash al Qaeda and the Taliban; rather, it was to build roads, hospitals and schools. The Afghans were to love us, and Mr. Obama hoped economic-development projects and lavish foreign aid - international socialism - would bribe enough hearts and minds. Nation-building trumped war-making.
His humanitarian imperialism has failed. The Taliban are resurgent. Despite the death of Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda remains entrenched in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Constant drone strikes, combined with our ceaseless meddling in domestic affairs, have only fueled anti-Americanism. We are no longer seen as liberators, willing to take the fight to Taliban jihadists, but as the very opposite: an imperial army that wishes only to expand its geopolitical footprint while lacking the desire to defeat the enemy. We are widely viewed by many Afghans as feckless occupiers.
Mr. Obama was never serious about winning. This is his most reprehensible and immoral act as president, one that will haunt him and America for years to come. Under his command, more than 1,000 U.S. troops have been killed in Afghanistan. They were sacrificed to bolster his political standing at home. Mr. Obama did not want to be seen as weak in the war on terror. But he never had a clear strategy for victory, and he refused to listen to his commanders on the ground. Now that the tide of public opinion has turned against the failed campaign, the president seeks to reposition himself as a responsible dove. He has been driven by one overriding impulse: cheap expediency.
The consequences will be disastrous. Our departure will be celebrated by Islamists everywhere; the Taliban will triumphantly claim they outlasted - and defeated - the “Great Satan.” Our prestige as the world’s remaining superpower will be dealt a severe blow. We will be seen as an unreliable ally and a weak adversary, a paper tiger that can be bled to death by a band of primitive fanatics.
“My soul, and the soul of thousands of Taliban who have been blown up, are happy,” Taliban leader Jamal Khan told the Daily Beast of his reaction to Mr. Obama’s announcement of a U.S. troop pullout. “I had more than 50 encounters with U.S. forces and their technology. But the biggest difference in ending this war was not technology but the more powerful Islamic ideology and religion.”
The vacuum is being filled by our mortal enemies. Kabul is forging an alliance with Iran, China and Pakistan. Anticipating Washington’s withdrawal, Afghan President Hamid Karzai already is looking for patrons in Tehran and Islamabad. He also is negotiating a power-sharing agreement with the Taliban. Moreover, America’s retreat has emboldened Mr. Karzai to erect a creeping dictatorship. He is accused of stealing millions in U.S. aid. He recently disqualified many opposition lawmakers who won in September elections from serving in parliament. His thuggish behavior has triggered a backlash. Minorities - Uzbeks, Tajiks, Hazaras - have formed a political alliance. Their goal: to stop Mr. Karzai’s growing authoritarianism. They fear that the Pashtuns, Afghanistan’s largest ethno-national group and the one to which Mr. Karzai belongs, are seeking to impose centralized rule. In short, the country is fracturing along ethnic and tribal lines. Once again, civil war looms.
This week’s deadly suicide attacks on Kabul’s InterContinental Hotel highlight the West’s failure to stabilize Afghanistan. The hotel is supposed to be the most secure place in the whole country; it is where many Western diplomats and journalists stay when visiting. It is Kabul’s equivalent of Baghdad’s infamous Green Zone, a supposedly impregnable security perimeter. If the Taliban can hit it, nothing - and no one - is safe.
When Mr. Obama proclaimed his surge in 2009, I warned that it would lead to defeat and catastrophe. Like President Johnson in Vietnam, Mr. Obama repeated a fundamental error: committing America to war without the political will and military means to win. LBJ’s mistake eventually cost 58,000 U.S. lives and consigned much of Southeast Asia to totalitarian communism. It also cost him re-election.
Mr. Obama is the LBJ of our time: an overly ambitious president wedded to socialism at home and nation-building abroad. He is defined by failure. And as Americans continue to come home in body bags, dying for a lost cause and a failed war, public anger will only grow and intensify. Vietnam destroyed LBJ. Afghanistan will destroy Mr. Obama.
Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a columnist at The Washington Times and president of the Edmund Burke Institute.