Obama Afghanistan Policy Update

President Obama and national security team discuss Afghanistan
President Obama and national security team discuss Afghanistan

As we’ve discussed before, President Obama is on the horns of a dilemma. He campaigned on the idea that the “real” war on transnational terrorism is being fought in Afghanistan and has since demonstrated that, true to his roots in the far left, he can’t bring himself to pursue any policy which might strengthen US influence abroad. In the process he has carried out a series of metaphorical terrorist attacks of his own, using surrogates to attack General Stan McChrystal. discredit the general notion of winning, and, of course, blame President Bush.

Today more of Obama’s Afghan strategy becomes apparent.

The broad outlines of the strategy and the means can be found in the Washington Post

Theme 1. It isn’t worth the effort.

Today’s front page is dominated by a story called US Official Resigns Over War in Afghanistan. The slug tells you what you need to know:

Foreign Service officer and former Marine captain says he no longer knows why his nation is fighting war, which he believes simply fueled insurgency.

The thrust is one we’ve heard since 2003, the insurgency is a reaction to the presence of US troops so the answer is to remove US troops. We heard that in Iraq and we saw there the utter futility of attempting to suppress an insurgency while ceding control of much of the population to the insurgency. In this story the hero, former Marine captain Matthew Hoh, a rising star in the Foreign Service, had his faith in our Afghan strategy destroyed:

Hoh was assigned to research the response to a question asked by Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during an April visit. Mullen wanted to know why the U.S. military had been operating for years in the Korengal Valley, an isolated spot near Afghanistan’s eastern border with Pakistan where a number of Americans had been killed. Hoh concluded that there was no good reason. The people of Korengal didn’t want them; the insurgency appeared to have arrived in strength only after the Americans did, and the battle between the two forces had achieved only a bloody stalemate.

Korengal and other areas, he said, taught him “how localized the insurgency was. I didn’t realize that a group in this valley here has no connection with an insurgent group two kilometers away.” Hundreds, maybe thousands, of groups across Afghanistan, he decided, had few ideological ties to the Taliban but took its money to fight the foreign intruders and maintain their own local power bases.

I don’t have access to Hoh’s report but at this distance I could offer an equally plausible alternative scenario. The outpost in question might be obstructing a key Taliban route or activity and the leadership of that organization has decided that it is worth whatever price they have to pay to get rid of the outpost. The locals are afraid of the Taliban and of being on the wrong side and therefore tell Mr. Hoh what is most expedient.

Unlike the way the Post and other papers used every disaffected soldier from Iraq to attack the administration, here we find nothing of the kind. The article concludes:

This week, Hoh is scheduled to meet with Vice President Biden’s foreign policy adviser, Antony Blinken, at Blinken’s invitation.

If the United States is to remain in Afghanistan, Hoh said, he would advise a reduction in combat forces.

He also would suggest providing more support for Pakistan, better U.S. communication and propaganda skills to match those of al-Qaeda, and more pressure on Afghan President Hamid Karzai to clean up government corruption — all options being discussed in White House deliberations.

“We want to have some kind of governance there, and we have some obligation for it not to be a bloodbath,” Hoh said. “But you have to draw the line somewhere, and say this is their problem to solve.”

Blinken, you will recall is in favor of a minimalist US strategy followed by a US defeat in Afghanistan:

Blinken, speaking for his boss, argued that trying to build an Afghan state strong enough to withstand the Taliban would take more time and resources than the American public would be willing to tolerate. If the goal is defeating al-Qaeda, he said, the United States should pursue a more focused strategy, targeting terrorists who seek to set up operations in Afghanistan.

Theme 2. McChrystal is wrong.
Kerry says McChrystal’s troop request ‘reaches too far, too fast’. John frikkin Kerry. I thought he was out burning up his weekly allowance from Theresa windsurfing or something. Now I find out that he’s drawing upon his experience in forcing a US loss in Vietnam to help develop a strategy for Afghanistan.

Kerry (D-Mass.) spoke in what was billed as a major address at the Council on Foreign Relations, after he returned from a fact-finding trip to Afghanistan. His remarks have particular weight because he heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and is a key ally of President Obama’s.

When one cuts to the chase, one finds that he’s in agreement with McChrystal in what needs to happen in Afghanistan but his experience derived from years of bloviating in the Senate trumps General McChrystal’s years of experience in killing our nation’s enemies.

Stephen Biddle, a senior fellow for defense policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, said Kerry’s tone differed from that of McChrystal, whose recent assessment warned that the war could be lost without an infusion of troops. But Biddle noted that the two men’s analyses had a lot of overlap.

“They both think governance reform is essential, they both think economic development is essential, they both think the security of the people of Afghanistan is the center of gravity,” said Biddle, who has advised McChrystal. “Both think the Afghan security forces should be expanded and we should put an Afghan face on the war.

“When you tick down the list of things Kerry said were very important, almost all of them were at the heart of General McChrystal’s report.”

Where they differ is this: if we are serious about building the capacity of the Afghan government to control its own territory it needs space to develop institutions and to train an effective military and police force. It can do neither if it’s survival is not assured. It’s survival can only be assured, in the short run, by US troops. Institutions can only be built when a majority of the people become convinced that paying government taxes and cooperating with those institutions won’t get you killed. This really isn’t hard to understand and one would think that people who allegedly followed the happenings in Iraq could readily grasp the concept.

And Richard Cohen weighs in with “General fallibility.”

The other thing I know about generals is that they do not ask for less — less equipment or less personnel. They ask for more, just as Westmoreland did in Vietnam before reality — otherwise known as domestic politics — forced Lyndon Johnson to rein him in. If Sorley is right about Abrams, the war could have been won with fewer men. As it turned out, South Vietnam was ultimately defeated because Congress turned its back on it — not pretty or necessarily honorable, but effective.

This might be true, but I’d rather risk winning with too many than losing with too few.

Theme 3. I’m not dithering I’m thinking, I’m thinking, dammit.
Former vice president Dick Cheney obviously drew blood last week with his statement that Obama was “dithering” on Afghanistan. The Obama Administration acted with the moral outrage of a liar who has just been called on a whopper.

On Monday, Fareed Zakaria, weighed in on the “no rush” side:

Dick Cheney has accused Barack Obama of “dithering” over Afghanistan. If the president were to quickly invade a country on the basis of half-baked intelligence, would that demonstrate his courage and decisiveness to Cheney? In fact, it’s not a bad idea for Obama to take his time, examine all options and watch how the post-election landscape in Afghanistan evolves.

President Obama, himself, coincidentally took a similar position on the same day.

President Obama fired back Monday at critics who accuse him of taking too long to review war strategy in Afghanistan, telling an audience of military personnel he will not rush his decision on whether to send additional troops there.

Before 3,500 members of the military and their families in a hangar at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Obama said U.S. troops deserve a clear strategy and full support to fulfill their mission.

“I will never rush the solemn decision of sending you into harm’s way. I won’t risk your lives unless it is absolutely necessary,” Obama said to loud applause. “And if it is necessary, we will back you up to the hilt.”

Without taking time to parse the true meaning of the ominously Clintonian “And if it is necessary (???), we will back you up to the hilt” someone really has to point out to the president that the decision has already been made to send our men and women into “harm’s way” and to “risk their lives” and he owes it to them to decide to 1) win the war or 2) get the hell out and simply write off their sacrifice thus far.

Any increase of troops in Afghanistan is reversible. The prudent course of action would be to provide General McChrystal with the resources to implement the plan that Obama agreed to back in March while additional review is underway. This would give the administration time to weigh the evidence of the efficacy of a higher number of troops rather than rely on a sophomoric analysis by a junior Foreign Service officer, the meanderings of John Kerry’s room temperature IQ, or Joe Biden’s quest for relevance.

If the evidence shows that more troops do nothing to stabilize the situation then would be the time to reconsider a strategy that has yet to be tried.