The recent release of more than 90,000 documents by Wikileaks gives the strong impression that President Obama's strategy in Afghanistan is in disarray. The body count of U.S. soldiers is rising. Last month represented the highest number of monthly U.S. casualties to date in Afghanistan, and this month's casualty figures may be worse.
Meanwhile, the administration has not proffered an operational vision of what constitutes success in this conflict. It has provided billions of dollars in assistance to Pakistan, whose intelligence service is alleged to be promoting Taliban efforts to kill U.S. soldiers and topple the current Afghan government. Lavishing billions on such an ally is a mind-bending example of how out of touch the administration is on the war effort. It is a feat that even President Lyndon Johnson didn't match at the height of the Vietnam War. The administration needs to reconsider its strategy.
The war effort has cast a burgeoning sense of doubt among members of Obama's own political party. Exactly 102 House Democrats opposed the recent House passage of a bill authorizing $37 billion in additional funding for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Democrats are growing weary of supplying more money to fight wars while at home, Americans are losing their jobs. The new funding is in addition to the approximately $130 billion Congress already approved for Iraq and Afghanistan. (Congress has approved more than $1 trillion for the two operations since 2001.)
These lawmakers represent constituencies that form Obama's support base. More core supporters and independents will abandon him the longer this conflict continues. His disapproval rating already stands at an all-time high of 49 percent. Meanwhile, support for Obama's handling of Afghanistan now stands at 36 percent. Further political polarization around the war effort is inevitable. The war in Afghanistan makes Obama appear too much like George W. Bush. And the worry is that an Afghan conflict without a clear vision of relevance and success will inspire the Democratic base to sit on its hands come November.
An argument could be made that getting out now would essentially allow al-Qaida and the Taliban to run Afghanistan after America cuts and runs. This argument would be compelling if not for the fact that U.S. efforts in Afghanistan are contributing to the further destabilization of Pakistan, a country with nuclear weapons. If the current effort makes things worse instead of better, where is the value added to continue doing the same?
The president is unlikely to take this advice. He made a promise to provide more troops and seems to give the impression each month that the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan is open-ended. Republicans, already beginning to murmur how Obama lost Iraq, will demand more troops in Afghanistan — this while simultaneously blaming him for being soft. Continuing the war effort is probably the only aspect of the Obama administration that Republicans will support. Obama's instinct to compromise does him a great deal of harm in this instance: No matter how much he spends, as long as the war effort is failing, his political opponents can sit on the sidelines and complain.
Arguments that the increased U.S. troop presence was not Obama's fault are simply misplaced. Sure, the previous administration offered no resistance while the Taliban regrouped. Bush basically ignored Afghanistan while pursuing war in Iraq. But President Obama was the candidate who decided that the hairy-chested way out of Iraq was to focus on the "real war" in Afghanistan. He was the one who could not stand up to his own generals when they told him that more troops were needed. Obama knows as well as he knows his name that the solution to Afghanistan (if there is any) has always been a political compromise and not military victory.
The president needs to perform a rigorous review of the political strategy in Afghanistan. The WikiLeaks documents and growing congressional concern present an opportunity for the president to pursue real rather than imagined change.
Greg Beals is The Root's Middle East correspondent.