The media have it wrong. According to the media, the big news out of the NATO summit in Lisbon, Portugal, is the 2014 withdrawal date from Afghanistan.
In truth, the big news out of Lisbon is that Obama and NATO have abandoned any definitive timeline for military operations in Afghanistan. America and NATO, it seems, are going to stay there until the mission is complete and a sovereign, stable and self-sufficient Afghan state is assured.
To be sure, the “goal” or “target date” for ending offensive allied combat operations in Afghanistan is 2014. But as Obama himself acknowledged today in Lisbon, that may or may not happen, depending upon conditions on the ground. And so, “I’ll make that determination when I get there,” the president said in today’s press conference.
In any case, he added: American troops will remain in Iraq and Afghanistan for many years to come in order to conduct counterterrorism operations.
This is a big concession and thus big news. It marks a genuine right-turn on Afghanistan. I mean Obama’s newfound commitment to winning and to completing the mission there, his abandonment of hard and fixed deadlines, and his acknowledgement that America will maintain a long-term military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan for many years to come.
Here are Obama’s exact words, in context, after CBS News’ Bill Plante asked him whether he (Obama) would “keep U.S. troops committed [in Afghanistan] in a combat role [after 2014] if necessary.”
The other thing that I’m pretty confident we will still be doing after 2014 is maintaining a counterterrorism capability until we have confidence that al-Qaeda is no longer operative — and is no longer a threat to the American homeland and to American allies and personnel around the world.
And so, it’s going to be important for us to continue to have platforms to be able to execute those counterterrorism operations. And that’s true in Iraq as well. And obviously that’s even more true when it comes to core al-Qaeda.
You know, we don’t want, after having made these extraordinary efforts by so many countries — we don’t want to have to suddenly find ourselves in a situation where they [al-Qaeda] waited us out and they reconsolidated it [their military capabilities].
What accounts for Obama’s abrupt right-turn? I think it’s Gen. Petraeus and the performance of our troops on the ground. Media reports to the contrary notwithstanding, the surge in Afghanistan is shaping up to be as successful as the surge in Iraq. Obama recognizes this; and he knows that it would be unwise to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Ironically, then, Obama, who ran for office as an anti-war candidate, and whose base of support comes from the far-left anti-war fringe, may well win reelection as a successful war president.
We can thank Obama for not being reckless and for heeding the advice and counsel of his military advisers. But we can especially thank Gens. McChrystal and Petraeus: because they are the farsighted and visionary leaders who laid out the grand military strategy necessary to achieve victory in Afghanistan.
Petraeus especially seems to have saved two American presidents, Bush and Obama, from themselves — and not only from themselves, but also from their political advisers, from the media, and from the military and civil service bureaucracies. Petraeus and McChrystal deserve our thanks and our praise.
John R. Guardiano is a writer and analyst in Arlington, Virginia. He writes and blogs for a variety of publications, including FrumForum, the American Spectator and The Daily Caller. Follow him at his personal blog, ResoluteCon.com, and on Twitter @JohnRGuardiano.