What's at Stake
Enjoying the sanctuary of the Taliban government in Afghanistan, al Qaeda set in motion the conspiracy that killed so many Americans on September 11, 2001. We learned many bitter lessons that day, including that we are not safe from enemies who plot freely against us from the other side of the world. That is why so many of our best and bravest young men and women are risking their lives in Afghanistan. Our mission in Afghanistan is to eliminate al Qaeda from the region and degrade the Taliban and other insurgent groups to the point where they are not existential threats to the Afghan government and do not destabilize Pakistan, with its stock of nuclear weapons. Our objective is to ensure that Afghanistan will never again become a launching pad for terror and to send a message to any other nation that would harbor terrorists with designs on the American homeland.
Much of the mission has been accomplished through the courage and dedication of our troops. The killing of Osama bin Laden was a landmark in the struggle for which President Obama deserves credit. Much more, however, remains to be done. Unfortunately, President Obama has repeatedly frustrated and imperiled the American mission through a series of unwise decisions. After a protracted deliberation process, President Obama in December 2009 announced he would support a "surge" that would entail introducing an additional 30,000 troops into Afghanistan. But in the very same speech announcing the surge, he put forward a timetable for withdrawal. The mixed message left our Afghan allies in doubt about our resolve and encouraged the Taliban to believe that they could wait us out. This past June, President Obama disregarded the counsel of his top military commanders, including General David Petraeus, and announced a full withdrawal of those 30,000 surge troops by September 2012. That date falls short of the commanders' reported recommendation that the troops remain through the end of 2012 and the Afghan "fighting season" to solidify our gains. That date also happens to be just weeks before a U.S. presidential election. There is no military rationale for it. It raises questions about whether the timing is politically inspired. Whatever the motivation behind the decision, it means that our military will be compelled to begin moving troops and equipment out of Afghanistan in the middle of the fighting season, taking away forces and resources it needs to combat the enemy.
Mitt Romney will never make national-security decisions based upon electoral politics. Upon taking office, he will review our transition to the Afghan military by holding discussions with our commanders in the field. He will order a full interagency assessment of our military and assistance presence in Afghanistan to determine the level required to secure our gains and to train Afghan forces to the point where they can protect the sovereignty of Afghanistan from the tyranny of the Taliban. Withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan under a Romney administration will be based on conditions on the ground as assessed by our military commanders.
Ensure Buy-In from Afghan and Pakistani Governments
To defeat the insurgency in Afghanistan, the United States will need the cooperation of both the Afghan and Pakistani governments. It is in the interests of all three nations to see that Afghanistan and the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region are rid of the Taliban and other insurgent groups. Mitt Romney will work with both the Afghan government and Pakistan to ensure that those nations are fully contributing to success in Afghanistan. But we will only persuade Afghanistan and Pakistan to be resolute if they are convinced that the United States will itself be resolute. Only an America that appears fully committed to success will eliminate the incentives for them to hedge their bets by aligning with opposing forces.
The United States must be clear in what we require of both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Afghan President Hamid Karzai should understand that our commitment must be met with reciprocal efforts to crack down on corruption in his government, respect free and fair elections as required by the Afghan constitution, and coordinate with the United States on fighting the narcotics trade that fuels the insurgency. Pakistan should understand that any connection between insurgent forces and Pakistan's security and intelligence forces must be severed. The United States enjoys significant leverage over both of these nations. We should not be shy about using it.