Ambassador's Cable Prompts Afghan Strategy Shift

Obama asks for new options after the ambassador to Afghanistan warns against troop increases

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U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry sent two cables to the White House last week urging against deploying more troops. The cables come at the last moments of President Obama's deliberation on strategy in Afghanistan. Several reports indicate that Obama has already decided to send tens of thousands of additional troops and is now finalizing that number. Eikenberry, a retired lieutenant general, was the top military commander in Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007. The AP reports that Eikenberry's dissent helped push Obama to request new strategy options that would better prepare for an eventual withdrawal.

Eikenberry's request puts him at odds with General Stanley McChrystal, the current top commander in Afghanistan, who is seeking 40,000 or more troops for an aggressive counterinsurgency strategy. Many pundits had argued that Obama should follow whatever strategy his military commanders request. The fact that two high-ranking military leaders have disagreed publicly over how to proceed suggests that discussions over war strategy will become more complicated.

  • Eikenberry Is Credible and Influential  Juan Cole writes that "this development is encouraging" owing to Eikenberry's background. "Eikenberry is a China specialist who can not only speak but interpret Chinese, who has a Stanford MA in international affairs, and who served two tours in Afghanistan under Bush. His appointment as ambassador in Kabul had been a surprise, since the generals are not usually sent in as diplomats, and the US military was already well represented in US government counsels on Afghanistan. But now it appears that Obama cleverly put Eikenberry in as chief diplomat precisely because he is worldly and experienced in the country, and in a position to second-guess the Washington war hawks who always think that a victory is around the corner with just a few more troops."
  • 'Ploy' to Pressure Karzai?  Spencer Ackerman wonders if the cables were a put-on. "Whether these dissents get walked back — or if they’re a ploy to pressure [Afghan] 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."
  • Obama Taking Charge  National security blogger Michael Cohen disagrees with Ackerman. "It's very possible that this is a trial balloon meant to light a fire under Karzai. But honestly I don't think so. Instead, I think President Obama is taking charge of his Afghan policy in a significant and long overdue way - and more important, standing up to his generals and national security advisors who seem to want to shoot first and ask questions later."
  • Eikenberry's Pessimism  Jules Crittenden wants more troops but can see why Eikeinberry wouldn't. "[F]or Eikenberry, up to his armpits in scheming warlords and bureaucrats in Kabul with his frontline diplomats daily engaged in pitched and desperate note-passing against an entrenched corruptancy, the light at the top of his own well probably is awfully dim and far away. This is a highly complex situation. Thinking outside the box, maybe it does make sense to put the cart ahead of the horse," he writes. "Sounds like the president, in a show of resolve, wants to signal more firmly to Karzai and the scheming warlords that the United States is prepared to hold its breath until the Afghan people turn blue, or that the United States might even take its bat and ball and go home. Also, to signal to the United States military that he won’t be pushed around if it kills them."
  • U.S. Public Divided, Too  The Tribune Company's Mark Silva reads the polls. "Just 42 percent support an increase in U.S. troops -- 35 percent at the level that the American commander in Afghanistan has recommended, 7 percent at some smaller level -- the Gallup Poll reports today. Another 44 percent would like to see a reduction in U.S. forces," he writes. "The majority of Republicans side with Gen. Stanley McChrystal's recommendation of 40,000 additional troops."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.