- My Atlantic colleague Robert Kaplan has argued on our site very strongly that it is "Time for Decisiveness on Afghanistan," by which he means that it's time to send more troops to wage a thorough counter-insurgent action. Here is why I disagree.
Bob Kaplan knows more about Afghanistan and its environs than I ever will. I like and respect him, even though we usually disagree about foreign policy, notably about Iraq. But his essay is only in part about the right strategy for Afghanistan. It is also about the way presidents make decisions about war and peace. That's something I know about, and I think his basic assumptions are wrong.
He says that Obama is causing great damage by taking so long to decide on the right course for Afghanistan. I think that presidents have caused damage by making decisions too quickly much more often than by taking too long. And he says that Obama runs the risk of seeming inconsistent -- and therefore of becoming ineffective. To me, presidents have hurt themselves and the country through rigidity born of a fear of looking inconsistent, much more often than they have by being too flexible.
A sample passage from his essay:
"It's perfectly legitimate for Obama to review Afghanistan strategy
and troop numbers. But by calling into question the very strategy that
he put into place earlier in the year, when he called Afghanistan the
"necessary war," and promised to properly resource it, Obama is
courting charges from the right that he is another ineffectual Jimmy
Carter--that other Nobel Peace Prize winner....
"The Administration had many months, beginning the moment Obama was
elected, to recalibrate Afghan strategy. Yet it's now in the position
of publicly questioning the fundamental wisdom of the general it has
chosen.... Even if Obama does end up making the correct decision on
Afghanistan strategy (by which I mean adding troops, since
counterinsurgency is manpower-intensive), the public agony over his
deliberations may already have done incalculable damage."
You should read his whole argument. If he or others can really establish that a decision right this minute about Afghanistan is indispensable -- that this is a moment comparable to the Cuban Missile Crisis etc -- then, OK. (For a contrary argument, see this.) Otherwise, everything I've learned about politics indicates that impatience is almost always destructive, that especially when it comes to military commitments it's crucial to think and think again, and that a president should be less afraid of being "inconsistent" than of making a big mistake.
- My Atlantic colleague Josh Green, co-author with Henry Waxman of The Waxman Report, adds this about the disagreement over calorie labeling I mentioned earlier today.
chime in with a congressional/historical angle on the Corby/Megan
labeling imbroglio: Congress considered the lack of information on most
products serious enough from a public health standpoint that (led by
Henry Waxman!), it passed the dull-sounding-but-important Nutrition
Labeling and Dietary Supplement Act in 1996. Waxman devotes a full
chapter to it in his book. Example of typically misleading industry
behavior: Sara Lee Lite Cheesecake actually contained more calories
per serving than Sara Lee's regular cheesecake. The "lite" was a
marketing ploy. Confronted by an FDA task force, Sara Lee claimed that
the "lite" referred to the color, not the caloric content, of the
cheesecake. Similar examples abound. A perhaps more resonant point for
the general public: without the Nutritional Labeling Act there would be
no South Beach Diet!"
* Why we're behind on Mad Men: Tried three times to get Seasons 1 and 2 from pirate video stores in Beijing. First time, the version we got was in Russian. Second time, Spanish and Portuguese. Third time, it was some other show altogether. Actually relieved to have a chance to rent legit versions at full price in DC!