Mr. Just One Minute shares my incredulity at the Obama Afghanistan decision making “process.” Using a WaPo piece as his jumping-off point, McGuire writes acerbically:
Obama had a strategy review in March, with a suggestion that some issues would be deferred until after the Afghan election in August. Now October is winding down and the Community Organizer-in-Chief wants charts and maps of the various communities to be organized and estimates of the number of activists troops required to do so.
I am not so bold as to suggest that the Afghanistan problem is even harder than getting the asbestos out of Altgeld Gardens. But it seems awfully late in the process for Obama to be operating at this level of detail. If we settled on a counterinsurgency strategy in March, surely it occurred to people at the time that we ought to have a review of our prospective local partners.
Please tell me that it has not just dawned on Obama in late October that we will be working with “Afghanistan’s provincial governors, tribal leaders and local militias as potentially more effective partners” that the Karzai government in Kabul – working with the locals was a basic part of the successful surge in Iraq and had to have been a basic part of the strategy in Afghanistan.
Either Obama has known of these partnerships for months but is no longer confident delegating that level of detail down the chain of command (troubling), or this is news to Obama (terrifying). Obama is not stupid, so I am guessing this means he has lost confidence in his generals. That’s Kennedyesque! (Always a good thing for Dems.) Another possibility is that Obama is deeply unsettled about what to do and is flailing about and micromanaging as an alternative to making a decision.
And criticism is not just for bitter right-wingers any more! (Hi, rtyb;-) Anthony Zinni (a noted Bush basher) publicly chided Obama for going all Hamlet. Michael Crowley of The New Republic also expresses angst. And I could go on.
Delaying a decision makes sense when new information is likely to arrive. That doesn’t appear to be the case here, and delaying a decision involves many costs, not least to Obama’s credibility and reputation.
My fear is that Obama will choose the moderate course, denying the McCrystal troop request, but maintaining a sizable force in country. As Admiral Fisher said, “moderation in war is imbecility.” (This statement is also attributed to Macaulay.) It’s the kind of approach that nearly turned Iraq into a complete catastrophe before it was cast away and replaced with the Surge. The status quo leaves the initiative in the hands of the Taliban.
Some have asked, OK, smart guy, what would you do? (Hi again, r). I would take the initiative and go large now. There is no guarantee that it will work, but there is a sufficiently large probability that it will to make it worthwhile to try. If it does work–great. If it doesn’t, we’ll know pretty quickly and can reverse course later. Moreover, it must be remembered that there is a symbiotic relationship between what we do in Afghanistan and what Pakistan does. The Pakistanis have become more aggressive, and are likely to be emboldened further if we take a more aggressive posture. That’s a force multiplier. The situation in Afghanistan started to deteriorate when Pakistan tried to reach an accommodation with the Taliban. The situation in Afghanistan will improve in large part if Pakistan continues to press in the Tribal Territories. There is no way in hell the will do that if we take the moderate course, not to mention if we bug out. Given that potential for positive feedback from a more aggressive US posture, I think it is worth running the risk of following the McCrystal approach.