After having submitted his written recommendation to the White House concerning U.S. troops level after 2014, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, Jr. who command all international forces in Afghanistan impinged upon the purview of presidential decision making of war and peace when he requested an audience with President Obama on Monday January 27, 2014 to influence President's decision of troop withdrawal from Afghanistan - a possible subject in President's State of the Union speech. Instead of granting the General an audience, the President should have relieved him for crossing the line. Under the Constitution, the ultimate decisions of war and peace are those of the President's and generals are kept at bay. President Truman fired the highly decorated General Douglas MacArthur, hero of World War II, on the spot on 11 April 1951 when the General's views were determined to be contrary to his administration policies. Indeed President Truman set the standard on such critical occasions.
Regarding the domain of authority on this subject under the eagles of the U.S. constitution Truman wrote, Civilian control of the military is an American tradition dating back to the founding of the republic in his 1956 memoirs, Truman further elaborated: 'If there is one basic element in our Constitution, it is civilian control of the military. Policies are to be made by the elected political officials, not by generals or admirals.'
Although there was public uproar but Truman was correct to fire a decorated general - a fellow greater than life at the time, exercising presidential power and determination and brute force decision by keeping the General out of the decision loop and drawing the line on such issues. It has been reported that President Kennedy resisted the intrusion of some generals during the Cuban crisis for attacking the Soviet Union.
Did General Dunford's request to meet the President after having submitted his written recommendation concerning U.S. final troop withdrawal crossed the line? Did it passed the test of time that President Truman had set on these issues approximately 70 years ago? Indeed such decisions are complex, they are embroiled in intelligence, secrecy, security, confidentiality, national interest and personalities involved in the White House for pro and anti-complete troop withdrawal from Afghanistan at the end of 2014. However, the lines of authority and decision making must remain clear and intact and military generals and admirals must be kept at bay as the constitution requires; whose propensity for war may intrude.
In this instance it is not clear whether the President decision was a sellout or it was it in the national interest? It would have to be determined from the analysis of the facts in the ground, i.e., what does the Afghanistan diaspora conveys after nearly 13 years of war? On this issue of troop withdrawal at the end of 2014, two prominent recommendations have been submitted to the White House that were diametrically opposed to each other and these proposals were made by credible organizations. One recommendation was submitted jointly by 16 intelligence agencies of the United States opting for "zero option." And the other recommendation was that of General Dunford's opting for continuation of limited NATO forces into the future.
It is extra ordinary that the White House granted an appointment to General Dunsford on Monday January 27, 2014 one day before President Obama's State of the Union Speech presumably to influence the context of the President's speech on the subject.
The fact that President Obama did not specifically assert a complete troop withdrawal date by the end of 2014 means that he renegaded on his promise to the American people in his 2013 State of the Union speech that he would withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
During his campaign, candidate Obama rightfully labelled the Iraq war the wrong war and decided to end it which he did. But he incorrectly labelled the Afghanistan war the right war without factual support and ordered an additional surge in 2009 which caused higher U.S. casualties while the war remained a stalemate and inconclusive. In June, 2013 President Obama ordered a peace conference with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar. The Taliban acquiescence but the peace conference folded when the U.S. representative accused the Taliban of not wanting to negotiate.
Unfortunately, Obama' decision on Afghanistan was fraught with misinformation, indecision, confusion, and loss of mutual confidence and gaps in communication and structural between Afghans and the U.S. Now the U.S. is facing the dilemma of President Hamid Karzai's refusal to sign the security agreement on the one hand and the decision to withdraw or keep some U.S. troops behind for training and counter terrorism.
Parenthetically, the most optimal option at this time is for the U.S. to seek an honorable exist of Afghanistan. This can be achieved by re-instituting the peace conference in Doha, Qatar with the Taliban and getting the Taliban's agreement of safe passage for the withdrawing NATO troops, Moreover, the U.S. could negotiate with the Taliban's and other factions to agree for a negotiated peaceful resolutions of any tribal impasse and avoid further conflict. Finally after 13 years of inclusive war and enormous damages in human lives and property the Afghans deserve to live in peace, the al-Qaeda future connection and intrusion is remote and never existed and so for as U.S. national security is concerned it I moot. Furthermore, it is time for U.S. policy makers to shift the focus of their concern from war to peace including aid for civilians, education, humanitarian issues, dialogue among tribes, and peaceful regime change. The schedule of the coming election must be modified to permit all Afghans including the majority Pashtuns to participate in the political process. That will cement peace.
Nake M. Kamrany is professor of economics and director of program in Law and economics at the University of Southern California and a member of California Bar.
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