The Obama Way of War


Among the many reasons things are such a disaster in Afghanistan is that President Obama’s initial plan for that country—which was meant to reverse the tailspin the place was in as of 2009—generated more confusion than it did clarity, and was never fully accepted by the generals meant to execute it. This is happening again.

The press doesn’t cover it much, but in Afghanistan the Taliban is coming back and the national government is held together by a combination of sticky tack and shoestring. The Kabul government may well fall before the year is out, which would likely precipitate a large-scale civil-war.

President Obama inherited a bad situation in Afghanistan in 2009. After an incredibly long deliberative period, he authorized a substantial troop increase, and gave his generals the task to “disrupt, dismantle, and defeat” al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, while denying them a safe haven in Afghanistan. In addition, they were to “reverse the Taliban’s momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government.” The Afghan government, as a key part of the plan, was to be strengthened to be able to hold its own against its enemies. Simultaneously, the president announced a deadline for the end of his troop increase.

His plan had the sort of sophistication and nuance of which a University of Chicago (adjunct) lecturer could be proud: fight the Taliban this much (but not too much!) and at the same time fight al Qaeda harder—but only in Afghanistan. In Pakistan, fight them a little bit less. Help the Afghan government, but only until a certain pre-determined time. Then, sayonara. It’s almost like achieving a good end-state in Afghanistan wasn’t the president’s priority, but that he felt he had to do something for reasons of domestic politics.

The War in Afghanistan Is Not Coming To ‘A Responsible End’

Marines in Sangin/AP

Last Friday I ran a review of Bing West’s new book, One Million Steps, a compelling account of the struggles of a platoon of Marines fighting in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, in the winter of 2010-2011. After a great deal of bitter combat, the Marines West writes about—and those who replaced them in subsequent deployments—succeeded in bludgeoning the Taliban in Sangin District into a degree of submission. By 2012, rates of violence in the area had dropped, creating some space for the Afghan government to eventually take control of the area. Including the British troops who preceded the Marines in working to secure Sangin, coalition forces lost nearly 150 troops killed in action, more than anywhere else in Afghanistan.

So how are things going now?