“Obama’s Pragmatism, Convictions Collide in Two Wars”
The Washington Post, March 26, 2015, p.A10
“For a president committed to ending two of America’s longest wars, it has been a rough few days. First, on Tuesday, President Obama said he would freeze U.S. troop withdrawals in Afghanistan, acknowledging that Afghan forces still lack the firepower and training to hold off the Taliban. Then on Wednesday, the Pentagon said it had begun dropping bombs in support of a stalled Iraqi offensive in Tikrit, edging the United States deeper into Iraq’s largely sectarian war. The decisions highlight a tension at the heart of Obama’s wartime presidency between a pragmatic need to limit the chaos in the two battle-scarred countries and the president’s strongly held desire to get the United States out of its longest wars. … But as the end of Obama’s presidency draws closer, his pragmatism is increasingly colliding with his strongly held belief that U.S. military power will never be able to fix the problems in Iraq and Afghanistan. Without a clear end date, senior White House officials warn that the U.S. role in the wars will go on forever. … For this week, at least, Obama’s pragmatism trumped his deep convictions. The combat and surveillance sorties in Tikrit effectively put the U.S. military in the middle of a messy civil war that Obama thought he had ended when he ordered the withdrawal of the last U.S. ground troops in late 2011. … In Afghanistan, Obama froze U.S. troop levels at 9,800 through the end of this year, amid worries that Afghan army and police deaths had spiked to unsustainable levels. The extra 5,000 troops will allow the United States to keep open bases in Kandahar and Jalalabad, where the Taliban remains strong. U.S. forces based near the two cities will advise the Afghan troops and call in U.S. airstrikes to help fend off Taliban assaults. Central Intelligence Agency drones will continue secret counterterrorism strikes from the two bases.”
Quickie analysis: It’s hard to see either of these actions doing much except delaying the inevitable.