It’s not quite a strategic retreat, more of a retreat into strategizing as Obama dithers about the dithering, informs his national security team it’s back to Square One. Scratch everything, back to the drawing board. He wants to stop thinking about the war but until he can figure out the peace part. OK, that may not be exactly how senior administration officials put it, but at this point, inaction speaks louder than words. via MSNBC:
WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama does not plan to accept any of the Afghanistan war options presented by his national security team, pushing instead for revisions to clarify how and when U.S. troops would turn over responsibility to the Afghan government, a senior administration official said Wednesday.
That stance comes in the midst of forceful reservations about a possible troop buildup from the U.S. ambassador in Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, according to a second top administration official.
In strongly worded classified cables to Washington, Eikenberry said he had misgivings about sending in new troops while there are still so many questions about the leadership of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
AP fails to note that Eikenberry commands no troops in Afghanistan. AP also fails to note that the United States just got finished congratulating Hamid Karzai on his big election win.
Spencer Ackerman at Washington Independent:
Eikenberry, of course, is no career diplomat. He commanded the Afghanistan war in 2006 and 2007 as a three-star Army general. Whether these dissents get walked back — or if they’re a ploy to pressure President Hamid Karzai — remains to be seen. But Eikenberry has a reportedly good working relationship with Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the current commander, and would not file frivolous dissents — let alone two in one week.
You know what’s unfortunate about the Post piece? It contains so many great pieces of reporting that aren’t Eikenberry-related but had to be cobbled into the piece because of the unfortunate constraints of the newspaper format — instead of being pulled out and put into linkable, modular blog posts of narrative utility — that will now be ignored because of the holy-fuck-edness of the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and former commander of the war dissenting on escalation taking up all the attention. Like for instance:
– Gates, the swing vote, has swung, in favor of 30,000-n-change more troops
– Dude is going to ask the allies for more, to back up their COIN enthusiasm
– There’s a debate over how many population centers you have to secure to keep the country governable. McChrystal thinks like 10 or 12. I’ve heard as few as three; check out this piece
– Canada and the Netherlands are on track to remove nearly 5000 troops by 2011, so we need that many at least to keep pace, and while I guess that’s not news, it doesn’t really make it into the papers in a simple, easy-to-read format
Paul Mirengoff at Powerline:
The Associated Press is reporting that President Obama “does not plan to accept any of the Afghanistan war options presented by his national security team, pushing instead for revisions to clarify how and when U.S. troops would turn over responsibility to the Afghan government.” It has been obvious for some time that Obama has no intention of fighting to win in Afghanistan, as he promised during the presidential campaign. A battle plan that includes provisions for how and when the U.S. can extricate itself from the field is a blueprint for defeat, not victory.
The pretext for Obama’s decision to return to the drawing board is a report from newly appointed ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, who has expressed misgivings about sending in more troops while there are still so many questions about the leadership of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Karzai is, in essence, the mayor of Kabul. The success of our troops is not contingent on Karzai’s leadership. The Afghan leadership that matters is that of the local leaders in areas where we are combatting the insurgency. But what matters most is our determination to protect civilians in these areas. Obama, it seems, lacks that determination.
If it were true, however, that Karzai poses the obstacle to success that Eikenberry perceives, Obama should decide not to send in any more troops and should seriously considering bringing home the troops who are in Afghanistan now. But, according to AP, this is not what the president has in mind. Instead, he reportedly is leaning towards adding 30,000 or more U.S. forces. Half would fight and the other half would training and hold ground. And, as noted, there would be some sort of provision to “clarify” when the U.S. would bug out.
So let’s get this straight: Karzai is too pathetic to justify sending in the 40,000 troops Obama’s hand-picked commander wants, but sufficiently able to justify sending in 30,000.
As weak war leaders go, Karzai takes a back-seat to President Obama.
If AP is right, this development is encouraging. All along, the things missing from Washington’s plans for Afghanistan have been a firm, specific set of goals, a detailed means of attaining them, and a way to know when they have been attained.
How unlikely the big counter-insurgency dreams of some military analysts are to result in success is apparent in this recent Frontline report, in which the US military outpost in a village in Helmand never succeeds in getting the locals to open a single shop in the bazaar under US protection, and never succeeds in stopping the constant sniping at them by Taliban forces. (The thing the program never brings up is kinship, and how likely it is that some of the villagers are just first cousins of the “Taliban” firing on US troops).
Meredith Jessup at Townhall