PALO ALTO, CALIF.
President Obama’s bullish “new day on the horizon” speech in Kabul wasn’t quite “mission accomplished,” but he came close to that dubious claim.
The trip had the trappings and full-blown rhetoric of a carefully worked out campaign event to squeeze whatever political capital he could from the year-old killing of Osama bin Laden, which is an old story.
In five months, the first combat-troop withdrawals will start taking place, and Mr. Obama, with his job-approval scores still stuck in the 40s, is reaching for any issue he can grab to offset his failures on the only issues that matter to most Americans: the economy and jobs.
In a televised speech to Americans from Afghanistan on Tuesday, he declared that he had succeeded in winding down the unpopular and costly war, which is in its 11th year.
Despite mounting evidence that the Taliban have not forsaken their mission to topple the Afghan government and bathe the country in blood, Mr. Obama said the country was on the brink of “a future in which war ends, and a new chapter begins.”
Just a few weeks after Taliban forces launched daring new attacks on the Afghan capital’s security forces, here was the president claiming “we can see the light of a new day on the horizon.”
It was a bravura performance, even by Mr. Obama’s often exaggerated, over-the-top standards, flatly declaring that “the tide has been turned” over the past three years.
“We broke the Taliban’s momentum. We’ve built strong Afghan security forces. We devastated al Qaeda’s leadership,” he said.
But apparently the Taliban didn’t get the message from the president’s campaign headquarters or from his speechwriters.
A mere 90 minutes after Mr. Obama’s departure, Taliban terrorists reminded the president that their ranks have not been decimated and they still can attack the country’s capital with impunity. The war goes on and is far from over.
In a second major assault in Kabul in less than three weeks, Taliban terrorists waged a fierce and deadly strike in the heavily guarded capital despite extra security for the president’s visit. Seven people were killed, and 17 were wounded as explosions shook the city for hours.
Press reports said the attackers not only “breached the defense perimeter” in Kabul, they claimed responsibility for the latest attack and brazenly announced their “spring offensive” will begin Thursday, when they will unleash a new effort to retake lost territory.
Yet there was the president claiming the United States essentially had achieved its goals and the Afghans were ready to take over full responsibility for their country’s national security.
That struck news correspondents there as dubious at best and foolhardy at worst.
There was nothing in Mr. Obama’s speech to “reflect the doubts of many American officials that the Afghan government or its military can hold its own against the Taliban with reduced American support,” wrote New York Times reporter Mark Landler this week.
Nor was there any flat-out declaration of defeating the Taliban who once ruled Afghanistan and protected Osama bin Laden. Mr. Obama admitted that his administration “has been in direct discussion with the Taliban.”
Indeed, he appeared to see a future in which there will be a role for the Taliban in Afghanistan. “Our goal is not to build a country in American’s image or to eradicate every vestige of the Taliban,” he said.
But the Taliban are playing a waiting game, and Mr. Obama has helpfully given them a date when the U.S. combat role will end. Armed with that information, they plan to unleash a renewed terrorist assault to regain power and to offer sanctuary and support for future Osama bin Ladens.
Mr. Obama’s speech pointedly exaggerated the ability of Afghan forces to take full control of the nation’s security, military analysts say.
“Progress in creating effective Afghan forces is increasingly questionable, the insurgents are clearly committed to going on with the fight, and relations with Pakistan seem to take two steps backward for every apparent step forward,” writes defense analyst Anthony H. Cordesman on the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ website.
Other terrorist groups are working side by side with the Taliban and al Qaeda toward the same end: toppling the U.S.-backed government and installing yet another Islamic dictatorship.
“Even now, months before any substantial drawdown, there are growing concerns about whether the Haqqani militant network, fresh from a blitz of attacks that paralyzed the capital for a day last month, poses a growing long-term threat,” writes New York Times Kabul reporter Alissa J. Rubin. “And mainstream Taliban leaders are still resisting talks, seemingly confident that they can secure both influence and territory on their own terms,” Ms. Rubin says.
Mr. Obama’s game plan for withdrawal has been planned right down to the wire with only one thing in mind: Election Day. His withdrawal plan calls for pulling out 23,000 troops by September, and there are internal discussions about possibly accelerating the troop pullout to boost Mr. Obama’s sagging poll numbers. A Gallup Poll had him in a virtual tie Wednesday with Mitt Romney, who has been a sharp critic of his Afghan policies.
As unpopular as the Afghanistan war is, the strategic decisions in Mr. Obama’s exit plan have turned too often into political decisions. That is no way to wage war or execute a national security mission that has cost America dearly in blood and treasure.
Mr. Obama irresponsibly handed the Taliban a date certain when we would clear out, and now they’re planning their march back into power as soon as we do.
Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and former chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.