McCain And Bin Laden: Together On Timelines

Rob Farley and I did a bloggingheads last night with some snap reactions to President Obama’s Afghanistan speech. In one segment, we discussed how, now that Obama has gone in with a troop increase that they favored, conservatives can be expected to go after the president’s announced withdrawal timeline.

Watch it:

Just as you can always count on Noam Chomsky to blame capitalism, you can always count on Sen. John McCain to advocate more war, more troops, and greater commitments. Literally minutes after the president’s speech ended, the Weekly Standard was pushing out McCain’s press release, full of the usual feel-tough, ersatz Churchillism — Success is the real exit strategy! — that sounds nice when delivered on the Senate floor but is, at the end of the day, as intellectually vacuous as it is strategically misguided.

It’s fair enough to note that convincing our Afghan allies that our resolve in helping them build up security and governance is solid, and I think the president’s speech did that. But we should also recognize that the “resolve” argument has two sides. It’s amazing to me that conservatives like McCain still seem unable to grasp that eliciting open-ended military interventions of the very sort that they endlessly advocate is, in fact, one of Al Qaeda’s stated tactic against the United States. In a mocking 2004 message, Osama bin Laden boasted “All that we have to do is to send two mujahedin to the farthest point East to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al-Qa’ida in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human economic and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits to their private companies… So we are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy.”

It is hugely important that the president has chosen not to play Al Qaeda’s larger game here, and to make clear to the Karzai government that, even though the U.S. is committed to securing their country from the Taliban, they don’t have a “blank check” — they have to do their part, and sooner rather than later. It remains to be seen, of course, exactly when and under what circumstances Obama will close the bank on on Karzai. Marc Lynch is right on in declaring the responsibility of skeptics of the policy to “hold the administration to its pledges to maintaining a clear time horizon and to avoiding the iron logic of serial escalations of a failing enterprise.” There’s no way of really knowing how much was lost in Iraq because of the Bush administration’s incomprehensible refusal use the leverage on the Maliki government that could have been generated by establishing a withdrawal timeline. We have neither the time nor the resources to replay that farce in Afghanistan, and I don’t see any benefit from pretending that we do.