Seamans: Exit Strategies

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(HOST) Now that the president has announced a time-table for leaving Iraq, commentator Bill Seamans hopes he will do the same for Afghanistan.

(SEAMANS) Our Congressional lawmakers are now on their month-long summer recess and say they are anxious to hear what we the people are talking about back home.  After President Obama said he is making good his promise to withdraw our combat troops from Iraq this year –  one word our lawmakers surely will hear is WHEN – when will we get out of Afghanistan and stop losing our precious youth in a seemingly endless war?  What they will hear is the rumble of a growing loss of public support as our death toll rises sharply.  66 troops were killed in July – our highest monthly loss in the nine-year-old war.

This heavy mood recalls another time.  It was back in 1969 when Vietnam veteran John Kerry shook the conscience of the country when he asked a Senate committee: "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"   On one of the Sunday talk shows, Kerry now reflected the growing stress on Congressional support when he was asked: What if General Petraeus asks for more troops?  Kerry answered: "I personally would say NO, I don’t think troops are the answer.  The answer is a political solution."   I’m surprised that Kerry’s blunt comment did not cause more of a Congressional reaction – I can only assume that they were too busy recessing.

Another talking point eluding pubic attention was a Washington Post report that the counterinsurgency strategy of General Petraeus – calling for less military force and more protection for the people – has shown little success – and that, instead, the Obama administration is quietly counting more on force – on the targeted killings of insurgents.  It’s said that over the last five months more than 130 significant leaders have been hunted down and rendered terminally ineffective.  This change in strategy, according to the ubiquitous unidentified senior White House official is aimed at persuading the Taliban to negotiate a peace settlement.

It is evident, in the meanwhile, that administration officials are trying to cool down our Afghan expectations – while suggesting that goals for the war are achievable but no quick fix.  Obama, on another Sunday talk show said "It’s a fairly modest goal. Don’t allow terrorists to operate from this region – and plan attacks against the U.S. homeland with impunity."   Defense Secretary Robert Gates played down our withdrawal from Afghanistan scheduled to begin at the end of next summer.  Gates said he thinks only "fairly limited numbers" of troops will be pulled out at first and he added in conditional military language, "As we are successful, we’ll probably accelerate."

And so it appears that we the people still won’t get a lucid answer from our visiting grip-and-grin lawmakers as we ask them our big question, WHEN?

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