Afghanistan: Back To Square One

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on November 12, 2009

This is getting ridiculous:

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.

Obama is still close to announcing his revamped war strategy — most likely shortly after he returns from a trip to Asia that ends on Nov. 19.

But the president raised questions at a war council meeting Wednesday that could alter the dynamic of both how many additional troops are sent to Afghanistan and what the timeline would be for their presence in the war zone, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss Obama’s thinking.

Military officials said Obama has asked for a rewrite before and resisted what one official called a one-way highway toward war commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s recommendations for more troops. The sense that he was being rushed and railroaded has stiffened Obama’s resolve to seek information and options beyond military planning, officials said, though a substantial troop increase is still likely.

There have been eight meetings in the White House on Afghanistan. Eight. How many more meetings does the President need before finally signing off on a decision?

The story goes on to mention the various questions the Administration has concerning the integrity and credibility of the Afghan government. Well, everyone who has a pulse understands that there are questions concerning the integrity and credibility of the Afghan government, but one needn’t fall in love with Hamid Karzai to realize that Afghanistan is worth winning and winning over in order to prevent a radical Taliban and al Qaeda resurgence in the country, that Afghanistan is worth winning and winning over in order to ensure that the Taliban and al Qaeda cannot use Afghanistan as a base from which to destabilize Pakistan, and that Afghanistan is worth winning and winning over in order to ensure that the Taliban and al Qaeda cannot use Afghanistan as a base from which to plot attacks against the United States and against American interests. You know, like they did in the past.

I have a lot of respect for Ambassador Eikenberry, given his military background, but his comments in the leaked cable concerning his misgivings about troop increases are not well-taken, and not in accordance with the prevailing–and correct–view on how to conduct counterinsurgency operations. His colleagues are right to be upset with him, especially given the way in which Eikenberry’s comments served to undercut the position of General McChrystal. (I realize, of course, that now that George W. Bush is no longer President, it is all right in the minds of some for generals to be undercut, but some of us try to put the national security interests of the United States over partisan politics.) Ambassador Eikenberry could have articulated his concerns far earlier in the process of making a decision on Afghanistan policy–the Obama Administration only been at the process of formulating policy since March–and his “contribution” now only serves to muddle the issue.

There is no reason on Earth why a decision cannot have been made by now. There is no reason on Earth why President Obama and Vice President Biden, in particular, could not have learned by now that their opposition to counterinsurgency doctrine–recall that both of them opposed the surge in Iraq (yes, I know that the surge in Iraq is not the same as the surge in Afghanistan. Unfortunately Barack Obama and Joe Biden are as purblind on the issue of Afghanistan as they were in Iraq)–is chronically in error and has to be revisited. And of course, as infuriatingly and needlessly slow as the process has been on Afghanistan, we are given reason to wonder whether the decision will not be worse than the actual process.

UPDATE: About the only positive thing to take out of all of this is that Robert Gates is enraged by the leak, and that if he has anything to say about the matter, heads will roll as a consequence of people talking out of school.

Previous post:

Next post: