Dear Karen Richardson,
Thank you for arranging the call today. I am glad someone in the White House is listening to the opposition because, as Kevin Martin suggested, this is becoming a growing disaster for the President. Here are a few brief comments:
1. In setting up a methodology for measuring progress [the metrics] it is all too easy to ignore the costs while stressing the gains [in places like Marja and Kandahar]. The costs include doubling our troop commitment, tripling our air and our drone strikes and straining our armed forces, a near-doubling of Americans killed in Afghanistan, a four-fold increase in Americans wounded in Afghanistan, not to mention Afghan and Pakistan casualties. The cost to taxpayers during this Great Recession will be greater these two years than the previous seven.
2. The Review and the president’s statement completely ignored the diplomatic/political goal of talks with Taliban towards a power-sharing arrangement, which seems to be the course strongly favored by Karzai and NATO. Such talks are different from “reconciliation”, of course. The absolute lack of progress towards talks almost certainly postpones any date for the withdrawal of our troops.
3. The Review doesn’t factor in the rising numbers and threats of terrorist attacks on our country traceable to these wars, for example, the Times Square attack that you cited. Is there a measure for whether these wars make our country safer? Or, as I suspect, is the policy to protect the government from charges of being “soft on terrorism” when and if the terrorists attack again?
4. A key question in terms of public support of the president is how many troops will be withdrawn beginning in July 2011. A token number would be a pill too hard to swallow. The Afghan Study Group, as you know, proposes a decrease of 32,000 by October 2011 and another 38,000 by July 2012, saving $60-80 billion per year. That would be a drawdown to pre-surge levels, and a strong message from the president that he means to end our combat role as rapidly as possible, allowing him to run in 2012 on a platform of trying to responsibly end two wars.
5. There is no plan to end the secret war in Pakistan despite polling of the people in the tribal areas who want us gone and replaced by Pakistan troops. We will be skipping from haven to haven...
6. I was pleased to hear that the President intends to get to zero troops in Iraq, on schedule, but I am having a hard time believing it. What I hear everywhere is that the Iraqis will request us to stay with a residual force and a base, the same idea Lindsay Graham is floating re: Afghanistan. It would improve your credibility immensely if indeed our government leaves Iraq as envisioned in the 2008 pact.
I agree with the caller who said it appears that the Review placates the generals, not the peace bloc of voters. As Kissinger and Petraeus both have said, the military doesn’t do exit strategies. That’s what we have elected officials and diplomats for. If an exit strategy is not carried out rapidly and responsibly, Afghanistan will crumble and implode, tipping over Pakistan in the process. Those are the cards you were dealt, unfortunately. Know when to hold them, know when to fold them.