If you have wondered why the Iraqi surge succeeded but the Afghan surge is struggling, you need only look at yesterday’s interview with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on “Fox News Sunday.” Gates was asked by Chris Wallace about Vice President Joe Biden’s recent comment that “a whole lot” of American troops will be leaving Afghanistan one year from now, when the deadline to start the withdrawal arrives in July 2011. “Who’s speaking for the administration, you or the vice president?” Wallace asked. Gates told him, “That absolutely has not been decided.” He tried to walk back Biden’s statement, telling Wallace, “I also haven’t heard Vice President Biden say that, so I’m not accepting at face value that he said those words.” But Gates acknowledged that “we clearly understand that in July of 2011 we begin to draw down our forces.” The pace of that withdrawal, however, “is going to be conditions-based.”
It was a noble effort at damage control, but the damage was done.
It is well-known in Washington that Biden opposed the surge in Afghanistan (just as he opposed the surge in Iraq) and worked behind the scenes to limit both the number of troops and the nature of their mission—arguing for a narrow counterterrorism strategy rather than a broad counter-insurgency strategy like the one in Iraq. In Jonathan Alter’s new book, The Promise, Biden is quoted almost gleefully announcing, “In July of 2011, you’re going to see a whole lot of people moving out, bet on it.”
The damage caused in Afghanistan by such comments is enormous. When the vice president announces that a large withdrawal will commence in a year’s time, it sends a signal to our enemies that they only need to wait us out another 12 months and America will begin its retreat. It sends a signal to the Afghan people not to bother helping the Americans in the fight against the Taliban, because the United States will be leaving in 12 months, while the Taliban will still be around waiting to take their revenge. And it sends a signal to our allies that America is already packing its bags, so they might as well start packing as well. In short, Biden has emboldened our enemies, discouraged the Afghans, and undermined our coalition.
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