McCain Bashes Obama’s Afghan Withdrawal Timetable
As British, Poles, Dutch Plan Exit

Controversy is swirling in Washington about whether the firing of Gen. Stanley McChrystal as commander of US troops in Afghanistan has contributed to a weakening of NATO commitment to the war. And on the other hand, the NYT is convinced that Pakistan is attempting to move in and pick up the pieces.

Breaking News: British Prime Minister David Cameron said Friday that he wants British troops out of Afghanistan within 5 years. He said, “We cannot be there for another five years having effectively been there for nine years already.” He offered long-term “training missions” to the Afghanistan National Army.

Although few Americans realize it, one of the biggest contingents of NATO troops in Afghanistan is that of the Poles. But Acting President Bronislaw Komorowski just announced that he is setting 2012 as the date on which a Polish withdrawal will commence. Poland has about 2500 troops in Afghanistan, last I knew in Ghazni.

The announcement comes after Canada announced that its troops would leave Afghanistan in 2011.* The Canadian withdrawal creates real difficulties for the US, insofar as the Canadians (about 2800), have provided key assistance in the Qandahar area, such that US troops will have to take over security duties in that area.

Holland is withdrawing its troops in August, after debate on an open-ended stay in Afghanistan caused the government to fall.

Although there had been speculation that Australia would also begin a troop withdrawal in 2012, new prime minister Julia Gillard called President Obama on Thursday to reassure him that Australia’s approach would remain that of major NATO countries.

Still, the US is eager to find replacements for the departing Europeans, especially in the area of troop training, has suggested India join in that mission, much to the dismay of Pakistan, which sees Afghanistan as its sphere of influence.

Republican John McCain argues that the rush to the door by allies is in part impelled by President Obama’s having set summer, 2011, as the date for the beginning of the US withdrawal (though Obama stresses that the drawdown phase could be protracted).

McCain’s argument makes no sense. The US has the largest contingent of troops in Afghanistan, and if it gradually draws down, few would notice. He disregards how crushingly unpopular the war is with European publics. What is amazing is that the governments have been able to keep troops there for this long. And, the economic downturn is another impetus to cut their losses and go home. You can’t keep countries committed to a forever war that has no end in sight.

With Today’s announcement by Cameron, it seems to me that President Obama’s hopes of rallying NATO for a long-term nation-building role in Afghanistan are finished. As in Iraq, where US troop levels have fallen into the 80,000s from a peak of 170,000, the US will likely be alone as it leaves and turns out the lights.

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*In an earlier version of this post I said that Michael Ignatieff had wanted to extend Canada’s stay in Afghanistan, but now see that he was, like Cameron, only talking about some post-2011 non-military role such as training.

10 Responses

  1. Prime Minister Gillard wasn’t elected. Because of former Prime Minister Rudd’s immense lack of popularity the party leaders decided that it would be better to approach the election later this year with a different name at the head of the party.

    Not directly relevant to the nature of the post, but for an Australian it seems an important development to report accurately.

    • Both major parties in Australia make obeisance to Washington. Otherwise they get called communists and fear that the US will destabilise them. It has happened before.

  2. McCain also has the timeline confused. Canada’s announcement of a withdrawl by 2011 was made well before Obama’s surge and his setting of July 2011 as time to begin removing US troops. So obviously that can not be what precipitated Canada’s decision.

  3. McCain’s position is curious, considering the cost of the war, $300 billion so far, and $100 billion projected for 2010. At this point the entire endeavor of COIN seems to me to be military/industrial complex boondoggle, which McCain, given his history attacks on Pentagon expenditures, would rationally oppose.

    The reason I consider COIN to be a boondoggle is the underlying assumption that the military do the internal development. Given the “valleyism” described by Matthew Hoh last year it would seem more logical to utilize this cultural uniqueness of Afghanistan to perform in country development with a very low profile such as done by Greg Mortenson.

    The notion that one can defeat the Taliban with an external force is like saying a Muslim Army invading the US could defeat the Republican Party. The American military presence merely enhances its existence. Only the Afghans can rebel against Taliban totalitarianism, if they so choose.

    At this point I don’t believe we can extract ourselves from Afghanistan until the military/industrial complex recognizes that it is sucking the country dry, which may in fact be happening as per Michael Mullen’s address yesterday where he stated the largest national security threat is the national debt. But then maybe I’m an eternal optimist.

    • “…like saying a Muslim Army invading the US could defeat the Republican Party”.

      In such a case you would probably find even registered Democrats joining a resistance.

  4. If the leader of a country with 2,800 troops in Afghanistan is a “liberal imperialist,” what is Obama?

  5. The appointment of Petraeus means yet another escalation by Obama. But not to worry, his obeisant Dims and Fauxgressives will support him no matter what.

  6. Great reporting, as always — it’s remarkable how much value you add to the news by selection and aggregation in addition to your comments.

    And I think you might make a point with your collection of exit times that is different than your own conclusion. McCain’s idea that our setting an exit time may be wrong in the specifics, but it’s quite strong in general. It’s precisely because the populations of our allies are massively against being there — and their elites are only risking hits to their popularity because it’s weighed against the cost of US displeasure — that a US exit time could well play a role in their national debates and provide the tipping point push for others. It provides cover for the political factions that want to withdraw: The US has already said it’s getting out in a year! On paper it’s not hard to imagine a rush for the NATO exits if Obama ever did announce a firm exit date, a rush that would end up making that date even firmer. And in strategic theory terms, McCain is right that announcing an exit time is like disclosing your real price when you’re haggling. It’s considered inherently giving away huge advantage to your opponent. But in terms of mass politics, a firm date is exactly what you want. So it’s a bit of a rhetorical bind when a president is trying to appear like a leader to both a mass audience and an elite one.

  7. This is now Obama’s war, and Obama seems to be planning for a forever war.

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