The incremental application of politically palatable troop increases -- always sufficient to avoid collapse but never enough to make progress -- has been identified as an inherent flaw of democracies when it comes to waging small wars. But if the Afghanistan War debate is to be carried out in an adult manner, we should be given an idea of what it will take to maximize the chances of success. That way we could actually decide whether such an investment is, in fact, worth the known costs and risks involved. The choice would then be between incrementally guaranteed failure and decisively embraced uncertainty. Instead, we seem destined to forever prepare the way for further escalation or, alternatively, accusations of giving up prematurely, by postponing the moment when we can say, "We did everything we could and the patient could -- or could not -- be saved."
Without knowing the provenance of the leak, it is impossible to state with confidence what the motives were. For my part, I would guess that this leak is an indication that some on the Obama team are dismayed at the White House’s slow response and fear that this is an indication that President Obama is leaning towards rejecting the inevitable requests for additional U.S. forces that this report tees up. By this logic, the leak is designed to force his hand and perhaps even to tie his hands.
[I]nstability marks not just the Afghan security and political scene, but international support as well. Many national governments and their publics, including major players like the US, Germany and the UK, are questioning the national interest of continued expenditure and loss of life in the country, particularly as opposition pressure mounts. While military and financial commitments are likely to hold for several years, it is clearer than ever than national interests and security, rather than international commitments to democracy or human rights, lead the calculus.
The question now becomes whether a serious debate emerges in the administration, within Congress, and with the broader population about what to do next, or whether the administration will simply decide to double-down on the more troops option. I am guessing that ultimately the administration will opt to send in more troops rather than risk the political attacks that would come if it decided to “abandon Afghanistan.”
I think that's the key thing to look for when McChrystal gets more specific: what, exactly, does he propose to do with the additional troops? If the idea is to spread them out in some way (for troop training, insurgent fighting, population protection, etc.), his request should probably be viewed skeptically. But if he can propose some key operation or area where additional troops would represent a doubling or tripling of capacity and success might have an outsize effect on the entire conflict, then it might be worth trying. We'll see.
[T]he president dawdleswaiting for what? Is it health care or some other agenda item that concerns him? We don’t know, but what is evident by the McChrystal recommendation (and by the apparent need to leak its contents, stemming no doubt from frustration with the White House stall) is that there is good reason to be concerned that the president’s failure to make a prompt decision may in and of itself impair our ability to succeed. The president may not like what he’s hearing (”Toward the end of his report, McChrystal revisits his central theme: Failure to provide adequate resources also risks a longer conflict, greater casualties, higher overall costs, and ultimately, a critical loss of political support. Any of these risks, in turn, are likely to result in mission failure’”), but he owes the country a timely decisionor at least an honest explanation as to why he finds it so hard to make up his mind.
Already, Republicans are warning that Obama had better follow the military's advice, or else. In fact, the president can afford to cross swords with the GOP troglodytes, but what he can't afford is to alienate his own Democratic party base, which has overwhelming rejected the war. (Polls show Democrats are strongly opposed to the war in Afghanistan.)
One hope that Washington repeatedly expresses is that an Afghan national army can be trained and the country turned over to it in only a few years. Ann Jones at Tomdispatch.com suggests, based on her own experience in Kabul, that the Afghan army may not actually exist, and may, in fact be a scam whereby an Afghan joins, takes the basic training pay, and then disappears. Some may even go through it two and three times. She points out that when 4,000 Marines went into Helmand Province this spring, they were accompanied by only 600 Afghan troops, and she wonders where the others are. She has a dark suspicion that no such army tens of thousands strong even exists. The US may even have trained persons who then defected to the Taliban.
I really can’t be bothered to spill a lot of words on the latest development in US strategy towards Afghanistan. Why bother to go through 400+ pages of a supposed mystery when you’ve seen the “surprise” ending in the final paragraphs?...[S]ometime in the next month or two, the “compromise” will be announced of 25,000 more US troops to Afghanistan.
McChrystal can’t be faulted for presuming that Obama’s commitment in March to a counterinsurgency campaign for a counterterrorism goal meant he should interpret counterinsurgency as broadly as he could or pursue it as aggressively as he could. Nor can the administration be faulted for worrying that such commitments push the means into overtaking the ends they’re supposed to yield. And the public can’t be faulted for turning away from a war that exhibits such strategic drift. But the leak of the strategy review means it’s now harder for everyone to make rational decisions without worrying whether their bureaucratic adversaries are going to undermine them in the media.
Health care reform won't make or break Obama's presidency. The way he conducts the war in Afghanistan will.