The West Point speech on Tuesday night was vintage Obama -- promise everybody everything and end with stirring words of inspiration. The problem is -- it won’t work.
While claiming he was articulating a clear mission statement Obama then went on to list, by my count, eight different missions: reverse Taliban gains in Afghanistan; defeat and destroy Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan; deny Al Qaeda’s return to Afghanistan and Pakistan; build the Afghan Army; launch economic, especially agricultural projects, in Afghanistan; teach them good governance; secure their population centers and partner with Pakistan on economic, security and political matters. And he’s going to do it in 18 months with an additional 30,000 troops. Unless Obama really is the Messiah, I’d say this is impossible.
What Obama should have done is narrow the mission to one thing -- kill Al Qaeda -- and partner with Pakistan to do it. We should squeeze the recalcitrant Taliban and their Al Qaeda comrades along the mountainous Afghan-Pak border in a pincer movement -- the American Army and Marines on the Afghan side and the Pakistani Army on the other side -- and kill them.
Obama did do one thing right last night, however: announce a political, security and economic partnership with Pakistan. Because no matter what happens in Afghanistan, it's Pakistan that presents us with the greater strategic threat -- because they've got the fatal combination of Taliban and nuclear weapons. The good news is Pakistan is finally taking the fight to the Taliban within, rather than worry about their neighbor India. They’ve moved crack Army troops into the tribal regions on the Af-Pak border and are battling the Pakistani Taliban and their Al Qaeda comrades first in the Swat Valley, now South Waziristan, and hopefully next in North Waziristan.
But unless we reverse Obama’s recent decision to pull back from the border in favor of Afghanistan’s urban areas, Al Qaeda will flee from the fighting in Pakistan and move back into Afghanistan. That’s how we got into this mess in the first place. We invaded Afghanistan after September 11 to kill Al Qaeda. By December 2001 we had nearly succeeded. But we let Usama bin Ladin and the ragtag remnants of Al Qaeda slip through our hands and escape across the Tora Bora Mountains into Pakistan -- where they’ve been ever since, plotting the worldwide expansion of Al Qaeda. If things get too hot in Pakistan, they’ll return to Afghanistan and start the whole cycle up again.
President Obama should have one goal in the Afghan War -- surround and kill Al Qaeda. The surge should be focused on that goal. We should partner with Pakistan to do it, and stay friends with them afterwards. And then we should bring the troops home.
Kathleen Troia “KT” McFarland served in national security posts in the Nixon, Ford and Reagan administrations. She wrote Secretary of Defense Weinberger’s November 1984 "Principles of War Speech" which laid out the Weinberger Doctrine. She is a senior adviser to the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and a frequent contributor to the Fox Forum.