Making the Taliban/al-Qaeda Counter-Strategy Easy

Two little words must have come immediately to the lips of Taliban and al-Qaeda commanders after watching or hearing President Obama's Afghanistan speech on Tuesday night: "disperse" and "retreat." And not for the reason that some may suspect. 

It's not fear of 30,000 more American combat boots on the ground that will make the enemy literally head for the hills. It's the president's advertisement that he hopes to withdraw most American forces by July of 2011.

It's a pretty dumb thing to tell the enemy that you aim to skedaddle by such and such a date. It makes their strategy easy: wait out the American forces. Skirmish: yes. Hit and run: yes. Ambush when possible: yes. Booby-trap: yes. But don't engage directly. Don't give the American military the chance to bring to bear its superior soldiers, arsenal, and war technology to deal deathblows.        

Melt away across the long Iranian border, or east and north into the rugged mountains and inaccessible valleys along the Pakistani border. Play a game of cat-and-mouse with the U.S. military. Frustrate them and exhaust them.

Also, infiltrate hamlets and villages. Make tribal elders aware that when the Americans leave, the Taliban will be back. Cooperation with the Americans will be construed as treachery, and bloody reprisal will be the price. The same goes for the Afghan military and police. 

One wonders what makes the president's military advisers and generals concede a withdrawal date, however approximate. It's sheer folly, and men and women who are schooled in the art of war can't possibly believe that it makes strategic sense. 

One wonders -- darkly -- if the president broadcast a withdrawal date anticipating how the enemy would counter. With the Taliban and al-Qaeda on the run, heavy engagements will be fewer, loss of American life lighter. Lower American body-counts are good for a president's poll numbers, especially by the summer of 2011. An approximate date for an exit from Afghanistan helps politically.

From this Christmas, when the first of the 30,000 troops are expected to arrive in Afghanistan, to July of 2011 -- a mere eighteen months -- the president could have the military appear very busy, chasing enemy over hill and dale, and training Afghan security forces for the handing down of responsibility. It's potentially action without much cost, political or otherwise. In fact, it may have some political benefit in that the military could be depicted by the administration and mainstream media as advancing objectives with less American blood spilled.

January of 2012 begins the presidential primary process. Mr. Obama wants reelection, and he doesn't want a challenge from his left. Anyone remember senators by the names of Robert Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy, who combined to upend Lyndon Johnson's renomination in 1968? Or recall what happened to the Democrats' eventual nominee that year, Hubert Humphrey: He lost the general election in a squeaker to Richard Nixon -- who, along with independent candidate George Wallace, gobbled up most of the nation's right-trending voters.

All this sound too calculating and conspiratorial for the president? Perhaps, but then that leads us back to the initial supposition: The President and his advisers are dumb folk, witless in the ways of war and incapable of anticipating the enemy's counter. 

Maybe the president and his advisers are just liberal-dumb. In other words, they actually hold a naïve set of assumptions about how the world works. Elitists that they are, they can't possibly imagine that unwashed tribesmen and religious zealots possess the wiles to outfox them. This view, of course, ignores the fact that these unwashed tribesmen's and religious zealots' forefathers outfoxed the British, while many of them outfoxed the Russians -- who, granted, aren't terribly sophisticated, but did have a leg up on the Afghans militarily.

Regardless the president's intentions, there will be at least some American casualties. And if any of us were soldiers, with any sense of what we were up against in Afghanistan, might we not wonder that eighteen months of fighting and sacrifice doesn't allow enough time to win the war? Might we wonder that we have been deployed to Afghanistan on a fool's errand? That some of us would return home maimed or wounded, or in body bags? And to what end? 

The lives of American fighting men and women don't come cheaply. Their exertions entail enormous sacrifice. When our fighting men and women are put in harm's way, it needs to be done with clear purpose and with victory as the aim. Short of that, in Afghanistan or elsewhere, the nation will expend blood and treasure toward dubious ends. 

The enemy doesn't have to be schooled in Clausewitz or Sun Tzu to figure out their counter, nor do they need to have graduated from a military academy. All the Taliban and al-Qaeda need are good gut instincts -- the instincts of battle-tested guerrilla fighters, which is exactly what they possess.
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