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WASHINGTON — A traveler asks a farmer how to get to a particular village. The farmer replies, “If I were you, I wouldn’t start from here.” Barack Obama, who asked to be president, nevertheless deserves sympathy for having to start where America is in Afghanistan.

But after 11 months of graceless disparagements of the 43rd president, the 44th acts as though he is the first president whose predecessor bequeathed a problematic world. And Obama’s second new Afghanistan policy in less than nine months strikingly resembles his predecessor’s plan for Iraq, which was: As Iraq’s security forces stand up, U.S. forces will stand down.

Having vowed to “finish the job,” Obama revealed Tuesday that he thinks the job in Afghanistan is to get out of Afghanistan. This is an unserious policy.

Supposedly buying time

Obama’s surge will bring to 51,000 his Afghanistan escalation since March. Supposedly this will buy time for Afghan forces to become adequate. But it is not intended to buy much time: Although the war is in its 98th month, Obama’s “Mission Accomplished” banner will be unfurled 19 months from now — when Afghanistan’s security forces supposedly will be self-sufficient. He must know this will not happen.

George W. Bush waged preventive war in Iraq regarding (nonexistent) weapons of mass destruction. Obama is waging preventive war in Afghanistan to prevent it from again becoming “a staging platform for terrorists,” which Somalia, Yemen or other sovereignty near-vacuums also could become. To prevent the “staging platform” scenario, U.S. forces might have to be engaged in Afghanistan for decades before its government can prevent that by itself.

Tuesday the Taliban heard a distant U.S. trumpet sounding withdrawal beginning in 19 months. Also hearing it were Afghans who must decide whether to bet their lives on the Americans, who will begin striking their tents in July 2011, or on the Taliban, who are not going home, because they are at home.

The president’s party will not support his new policy, his budget will not accommodate it, our overstretched and worn down military will be hard-pressed to execute it, and Americans’ patience will not be commensurate with Afghanistan’s limitless demands for it. This will not end well.

Not a convincing case

A case can be made for a serious, meaning larger and more protracted, surge. A better case can be made for a radically reduced investment of resources and prestige in that forlorn country. Obama has not made a convincing case for his tentative surgelet.

 

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