The President’s speech last night is difficult to internalize. The reason may be that it had something for everyone, domestically. It had everything from the recognition of America’s role in providing global security for security conservatives to an exit date for miscreant liberals. It had a reminder to Congress that their approval for use of force was still in place. It had rhetoric about agriculture? It had a reminder of “my” policies regarding torture and Gitmo. It had concerns about cost; no matter who you are there was something to hang a glimmer of ideology on.
For those in the region there was only one message July, 2011.
Pakistanis will view this as “typically American”, the exit date will support their worst fears. The significant portion of the Pakistani power structure that views American support as fickle and lacking long term vision will take the ascendency. The Urdu equivalent of “see I told you so” will be, likely, oft repeated in the Pakistani halls of power. The motivation for Pakistani’s to hedge their political and military bets regarding the border regions will be renewed by last night’s statement of American policy. Pakistanis are not, fundamentally, pro-American and they never have been; we’ve not won Pak loyalty, at best we’ve been able to rent it on a short term lease.
For The Afghan government the idea that an exit date creates pressure to perform to American standards is belied by the stated commitment that we will essentially go around the Afghan government. The commitment to work more directly with regional and provincial authorities cannot serve to strengthen the central government. It could be one or the other but not both. That is not to say that working with regional leaders is a bad idea, it is not; in fact it is a critical part of a counterinsurgency effort. But to imply that we motivate President Karzi by doing so is chimera.
Most importantly for the Taliban, Al Qaeda and the variety of Jihadist forces in Afghanistan the July 2011 exit date is a godsend. They now know exactly what they have to do and how long they have to do it for.
The Taliban / Jihadi forces have demonstrated a number of capabilities; patience, absolute ruthlessness, strategic vision and tactical competence. They are seasoned fighters and know well the dynamics of insurgent operations. It is well within their capabilities to produce the illusion of American progress within the construct of the announced time line. By simply generating a planned progressive reduction in their operations over the 18 month period in question they could create the illusion of American progress in fighting the insurgency.
By creating this illusion they would essentially execute military Jiu Jitsu using American policy against American policy. The desire for the definition of a limited engagement by the President could create the strategic conditions which would defeat that very idea and illuminate the path to Taliban resurgence in the longer run.
The Taliban and their compatriot leadership structures are fully and keenly aware of American political conditions. They, no doubt, realize that this President is much more politically motivated than the prior President. They may come to the perception that Maxine Waters has illuminated; that being that the President’s strategy is a result of campaign promises and not a full blown security commitment to Afghanistan. It is ironic that it could very well be the Taliban that provides the political cover for an exit strategy as they marshal themselves for the post U.S. Afghanistan.
There is a reason why George Bush, despite unrelenting pressure, refused to place a time line on the Iraqi surge. That lesson is, unfortunately, lost on this administration as are the potential rerecussions.