The single most important role of a president at war is to clearly define why the country is in it. Barack Obama has never done this. His lack of leadership in what he calls the war of “necessity” has let our troops and America down.
In his made-for-TV speech to the cadets at West Point and to the nation, he made it clear that he does not understand the limited role Afghanistan now plays in terrorism nor has he defined what a victory will look like. Instead, he played to both the political right and left by presenting a strategy that will put more lives at risk.
Secretary of Defense William Gates is an expert on Afghanistan. As deputy director of the CIA in the 80s, he helped oversee the covert U.S. effort to funnel money and weapons to the mujahideen battling the former Soviet Union. When the newly elected President Obama was weighing whether or not to keep Gates as Secretary of Defense, it was clear Gates believed more troops needed to be sent to Afghanistan. Gates was the one who replaced General David McKiernan in Afghanistan with General Stanley McChrystal. Therefore, the president should not have been surprised that troop requests were forthcoming. That was the strategy of Gates and McChrystal from the very beginning.
It seems everyone in America except the president heard McChrystal’s cries for more troops. In his speech, Obama said, “As your Commander-in-Chief, I owe you a mission that is clearly defined and worthy of your service. And that’s why, after the Afghan voting was completed, I insisted on a thorough review of our strategy.”
How many months in office do you need in order to recognize the urgency of a war? The war is your #1 responsibility as president-not a rushed stimulus bill, an auto bailout, cap and trade, socialized health care, or special interest groups.
Announcing our war strategy to the world and especially to our enemies is just another example of inexperience and lack of wisdom. Obama said, “And as Commander-in Chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home.” A president must be the backbone. An exit plan is not exactly supporting the effort. By the time all the troops are airlifted into Afghanistan, it will soon be time to start bringing others home. What a coincidence: a withdrawal plan just in time for the 2012 election.
If we’re going to fight the war in Afghanistan, we must give our generals enough troops to win it. The cost of counterinsurgency is too high. It’s estimated to take 20 troops per 1,000 civilians to win-or in the case of Afghanistan, 660,000 troops. Obama said, “Our new approach in Afghanistan is likely to cost us roughly $30 billion for the military this year.” Based on an additional 30,000 troops, that’s $1 million per troop. That would mean a cost of $660 billion to fight the counterinsurgency properly.
Meanwhile, the terrorists, the reason we’re there to begin with, are moving to countries without government, like Somalia and Yemen. Why did we look the other way when it was discovered that 15 of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia? And where was the support from our president for the people of Iran protesting against a regime that wants to wipe Israel off the map and that continues developing nuclear weapons? I have written about my concerns for killing the F-22 program. Now we find out that Russia and India are creating in partnership a fifth-generation fighter jet. Obama’s dithering is compounding Bush’s bad judgment calls.
In his speech, the president said, “what’s at stake is not simply a test of NATO’s credibility-what’s at stake is the security of our allies, and the common security of the world.” Once again, the president is talking more about the goals of the United Nations than those of the United States. And let’s not forget that some of the allies he’s been meeting with aren’t exactly who you and I would consider friends of the United States.
It is difficult to know who the president thinks our enemies are, especially when he says, “And finally, we must draw on the strength of our values-for the challenges that we face may have changed, but the things that we believe in must not. That’s why we must promote our values by living them at home-which is why I have prohibited torture and will close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.” And all along I thought we were at war.
E.J. Smith is Managing Director of Richard C. Young & Co., Ltd. an investment advisory firm managing portfolios for investors with over $1,000,000 in investable assets.