President Obama's address given before the assembled cadets at the United States Military Academy was undoubtedly intended for a much wider audience. In it, the president made certain to point out that the decision he delayed more than three months was one he "did not take lightly."
He went on to assert, "I'm convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan," and claimed "unwavering resolve," when it came to our safety. With that, the commander-in-chief (he made sure to remind us of that several times) announced that he was sending 30,000 more troops into the fray.
While this is fewer than Gen. McChrystal asked for, it is good news in the short term for the war effort. But the president followed his announcement with the proclamation that our military commitment in Afghanistan would end in 2011.
This is obviously an attempt by Mr. Obama to make sure the war is wrapped up with a tidy bow on top before the 2012 elections. But it is a large gamble, and one I will predict that he'll lose. Here's why.
What Obama said: We are sending 30,000 more troops, but they will begin to come home less than 18 months after they all arrive in country.
What the Taliban heard: We no longer need to defeat the Americans and drive them out of our country. We have only to survive for another 18 months and then we can declare victory when the infidels run for (political) safety.
What the Taliban will now tell the Afghans: Assisting the Americans is a fools errand, because they have now made it official - their support will evaporate in less than two years. But we will still be here, and will then be free to punish anyone who did not support our cause.
What the West Pointers heard: Most of you likely joined the military to make a difference and defend our country from those who would destroy us. Well, too bad. The war will be over before most of you graduate. Better luck next time."
What Obama said: I do not make this decision lightly.
What America heard: Even though my top military advisors took months to carefully determine what was needed to win this war, the Obama administration either did not trust those experts until we had performed our own analysis, or it took us more than three months to decide what the most politically safe option would be.
When George W. Bush ordered the surge in Iraq, his comments stood in stark contrast to Mr. Obama's on Tuesday night. He promised that America would see the fight through to the end, that we would be there for the Iraqi people no matter how long it took. Ironically, that kind of open-ended commitment likely gave the Iraqis the confidence they needed to rise up and take control of their country. I'm afraid we may see the opposite in Afghanistan.
No one, not even the president, can predict when a war will be won. That must be determined by the conditions on the ground. To declare that we will leave no matter what in such a relatively short period of time undermines our efforts in the war zone, and puts our troops at much greater risk. It is disingenuous, self-serving, and just plain poor leadership.
Gen. McChrystal and our brave fighting forces will make do with whatever they are given, and because of their tenacity, toughness and creative tactics, they may still pull off a win despite being given less than they truly need. But half-measures and qualified commitments from our president bode very poorly for the war, for the lives of our men and women in uniform, and ultimately for the reelection campaign of Barack Hussein Obama.
See also: Why Winning Matters