Stay or Go: Will Obama Challenge Petraeus's COIN Strategy?

As elite opinion turns against a troop-intensive counterinsurgency strategy, Obama has a decision to make

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In Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus is planning to "ramp up" the military's troop-intensive, counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy, reports the Wall Street Journal. Senior military officials say Petraeus's predecessor, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, focused too heavily on assassinating Taliban leaders rather than implementing a broader strategy of protecting civilians and propping up the government. However, Petraeus's plans to implement a troop-intensive strategy could face opposition from the Obama administration as enthusiasm for the war effort diminishes.

As elite opinion begins to sour on America's chances in Afghanistan, will the White House call for deescalation against Petraeus's wishes? Here are reports and opinions that suggest it might:

  • Dissent in the White House  "Some in the White House advocate a pared-down approach that requires fewer troops and greater emphasis on drone attacks on insurgent leaders," reports Julian Barnes at The Wall Street Journal. "These officials would like to see an accelerated withdrawal of U.S. troops."

  • Dissent Outside the White House  David Sanger in The New York Times observes:

Mr. Obama has begun losing critical political figures and strategists who are increasingly vocal in arguing that the benefits of continuing on the current course for at least another year, and probably longer, are greatly outweighed by the escalating price.

Obama's mentors on foreign policy issues in the Senate, Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, argued that "the lack of clarity in Afghanistan does not end with the president’s timetable," and that both the military and civilian missions were "proceeding without a clear definition of success." ... The allies, voicing similar concerns, have abandoned most talk of a conditions-based withdrawal in favor of harder timetables ... The Dutch leave this fall, and the Canadians say they intend to follow suit by the end of 2011.

  • Obama Won't Be Able to Resist This Pressure, writes Michael Cohen at Democracy Arsenal: "It seems increasingly clear that elite opinion on Afghanistan is beginning to shift against the current mission and toward a more limited set of goals. Unless Barack Obama is LBJ re-incarnated I think that has to, at some point, make a difference. It will be interesting to see how things play out on the ground over the next few months, but I think we've hit a genuine inflection point on Afghan policy--and it leans toward de-escalation, not escalation."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.