Thoughts on Barry's speech at West Point last night
First, he said he'd be deploying an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, which is commendable, but it's a great deal lower than the numbers General McChrystal and his commanders requested. They were initially going to request 80,000, and toned down the request to 60,000. Eventually, through the morons in Congress, that number was weened down to 40,000, and now the president has settled on 30,000. No offense to the president and his back-patters but 30,000 troops isn't nearly enough to make a difference. It'll help, but the initial request was based on the assessment of commanders, in theater, that see what's needed. 30,000 troops will help those beleaguered soldiers, but it's basically a band-aid.
Second, he didn't clearly define the mission. He didn't say we were deploying additional forces with the goal of winning. "Winning," "victory," "success," -- those words didn't appear in his speech which conveys, to us at least, that he has no intention of doing what's necessary for victory in Afghanistan. (There are plenty of military experts/historians that claim we can't win in Afghanistan, and that no one ever has successfully done so, so why stick around?) They have a point, yes, but we feel we can succeed in Afghanistan, but this is hardly the winning strategy. In fact, General McChrystal's COIN (counter-insurgency) strategy could essentially work IF he had the amount of troops he initially requested.
Third, he has set a hard-deck exit date for July of 2011. As we get closer to that date, expect the Taliban/AQ forces to tone down their attacks to give everyone a false sense that violence is winding down. This was the argument against setting hard timetables in Iraq that President Bush refused to give. Instead he negotiated with the Iraqi government on a security deal that will gradually draw down our troop presence in Iraq, but don't think for a moment we'll completely pull out unless Iraq does as Saudi Arabia did to us in the early 21st Century in requesting we leave their soil. But with the date set (not so much in stone as Barry is notorious for having built-in expiration dates with his promises) and a lack of strategy, he's setting the military up for failure. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, while getting grilled by Senator McCain today , admitted that in December of next year, they will review the situation again, and make corrections to ensure that General McChrystal gets the full allotment of time to carry through on his strategy. (Problem is that this administration doesn't understand what a COIN strategy entails. You need to flood the area, earn the trust of the people, and get them to turn on the violent elements plaguing the Afghan nation. Perhaps General Petraeus should drop by the White House to explain it to the president, as he did with President Bush.)
All in all, the speech was a snoozer. He reminded people that, once again, this was Bush's fault and he inherited it. He continuously used the "Let me be clear" line that he uses like a crutch. He did a pi$$-poor job of explaining why it took him nearly 100 days to come up with this decision. (We know that important decisions can't be snap ones, but 100 days?) He didn't inspire anything or anyone with this speech. (Except maybe an insomniac to seek sleep.) I've already had a couple e-mails from readers that are incredulous that the cadets applauded such a weak commander-in-chief. I have to remind readers that the cadets will be respectful of the president no matter how incompetent he is. They don't get to choose their commander-in-chief. They're supposed to follow his orders. (Yes, yes, they get to vote, but that's not what I meant by saying "choose.")
This speech could have been written and delivered better than it was. He sounded flat, almost bored to be there. His decision to send the additional troops is commendable (and despite what our feelings are for the man, we'll give him that much respect), but ultimately these troops won't be enough unless the Afghan forces and NATO forces see a significant bump in strength. Gordon Brown is assuring the president and NATO commanders that he will send an additional 500 spec-ops soldiers to Afghanistan, but that's still not enough. Our NATO allies have to pony up more if our president is going to give the commanding general a band-aid, and depend on Predator strikes to change the direction in Afghanistan.
Finally, the RoEs (Rules of Engagement) need to change. We know it's no fun to see dead civilians on a battlefield, and that we should take every step necessary to minimize those numbers. However, the RoEs our soldiers are saddled with right now is detrimental to their mission. They're not authorized to engage the enemy until they know, for sure, no civilians are in the area. Kind of hard to kill the bad guys when they're using the civilian populace as shields. We dealt with this early on in Iraq, and it wasn't until General Petraeus initiated his surge that the RoEs changed to suit the strategy. General McChrystal needs to urge the Pentagon and White House to return to the RoEs that were successful in Iraq. Without this minor change, 30,000 troops added to the theater won't be of much help in the long run.