If the Taliban retake control of Afghanistan, blame Obama
By Con Coughlin World Last updated: January 8th, 2014
When the unhappy history of America's involvement in the Afghan conflict comes to be written, the damning critique provided by former US Defence Secretary Robert Gates on President Barack Obama's inept handling of the war will be required reading.
As a former Defence Secretary for both the Bush and Obama administrations, and in his capacity as a former director of the CIA, Mr Gates has been at the heart of American policymaking on security issues for decades. And the scathing remarks he makes in his new book, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary of War, about Mr Obama's handling of the conflict, will not make for comfortable reading at the White House.
Mr Gates says that, even though Mr Obama personally authorised the military surge against the Taliban in late 2009, his heart was never really focused on the mission and that, from the moment he entered the White House, he was more interested in a cut-and-run strategy than actually bothering to win the war by defeating the Taliban and stabilising the war-ravaged country.
Mr Gates says the president's focus was "all about getting out", and that he was "sceptical if not outright convinced" that his generals' plans would end in failure. No wonder Mr Obama forced two of his leading generals in Afghanistan - Generals David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal – out of their jobs.
In fact, if any blame is to accrue for the way the mission has unravelled since Mr Obama came to office, then it lies fairly and squarely with the Oval office. As Mr Gates writes, the American president and commander-in-chief "doesn't believe in his own strategy and doesn't consider the war to be his". So much for "Obama's War", as some sections of the American media labelled it.
From the moment Mr Obama announced during his speech a the West Point Military Academy in late 2009 that, at the same time as he announced the military surge, American forces would conclude their combat operations by the end of 2014, the mission, as I have written consistently ever since, has been dead in the water.
The primary objective of the surge was to force the Taliban to the negotiating table through force of arms. But the moment Mr Obama showed his heart was not in the campaign by fixing a firm date for hostilities to cease, the Taliban realised he was not serious about winning the war. And they certainly saw no point in entering negotiations when a foreign power, as so often happened in this country's long and benighted history, was more interested in leaving than winning the war.
The White House would still like us to believe, as David Cameron fatuously remarked before Christmas, that it is "mission accomplished" so far as the Afghan conflict is concerned. But the National Intelligence Estimate compiled from America's leading intelligence agencies at the end of last year paints a very different picture, one where the Taliban seize control of much of the territory vacated by American troops later this year, which will mean that the sacrifices made by the thousands of American, British and other Nato troops who have been killed or suffered serious injury during the past decade will have been made in vain.
Certainly, if this prediction proves to be correct, then the legacy of Mr Obama's handling of the Afghan mission will not be one he will cherish.