Afghanistan Crossroads

September 27th, 2009

Afghanistan3No Deadline Set for Decision on Troops by Bob Woodward in The Washington Post details the Administration’s current review of strategy for the war in Afghanistan.  Afghan agony: More troops won’t help by Ralph Peters in the New York Post presents a realistic alternative.

As Woodward reports, the Administration is considering whether to grant a request headed their way from our commander in Afghanistan.  In order to carry out the President’s current strategy in Afghanistan, more troops are needed.  Without additional forces, it won’t be possible to accomplish the current mission. 

Apparently suffering misgivings about his own strategy, and with increasing pressure from Democrats, Obama seems on the verge of taking the road less traveled — away from incremental involvement in an unwinnable military nation-building exercise in an the context of an intense insurgency.  If history teaches us anything, it ought to be that getting stuck tighter to the Afghanistan tarbaby is a serious mistake.

Ralph Peters, a retired Army officer, prolific author, and leading commentator on political and military affairs, is certainly no liberal.  He’s also not anti-war and strongly supports the military and a strong national defense.  He favors taking the road toward reducing our military presence on the ground in Afghanistan and re-jiggering our strategy:

Gen. Stan McChrystal, an honorable soldier, has reported from Afghanistan: He wants more troops for a “classic” counterinsurgency strategy to secure the population, then win hearts and minds.

President Obama needs to make a decision: Either give the general the resources he believes he needs, or change the mission.

I’m for changing the mission. Concentrate on the continued destruction of al Qaeda and its allies. Nothing else matters in this mess.

Last spring, the president handed McChrystal an impossible mission: Turn Afghanistan into a prosperous, rule-of-law democracy cherished by its citizens. The general’s doing his best. But we have zero chance — zero — of making that happen.

Peters is right.  We should reduce our force levels immediately and continue supporting the Kabul government diplomatically and with development assistance, to the extent we can.  The only forces left on the ground in Afghanistan should be those necessary to protect U.S. personnel and assets, along with certain special operations forces, as Peters explains.  Other applications of force should be from offshore, which would permit targeting of terrorists wherever they are.

If that means the corrupt government in Kabul falls, then it falls.  That’s the same position we’ll be in 10 years from now if we continue trying to fight a war against the Taliban.  Our focus should be on our real enemy — Al-Qaeda and any other terrorists in Pakistan or Afghanistan which present a threat to the U.S.

We’re at a serious crossroads now in the evolution of the war in Afghanistan.  If we go the wrong way, it’s virtually inevitable that many American soldiers will die and billions of dollars will be wasted in a fruitless endeavor.


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6 Responses to “Afghanistan Crossroads”



  1. larry |

    I agree that Obama needs to decide what his plan is concerning Afghanistan. He nor anyone else in his entourage has even the remotest foreign policy savvy. I truly believe he is afraid to move for fear of failing and being humiliated. Granted his military commander in Afganistan is untried but his ability or lack of it cannot surface as long as his Commander and chief refuses to give him the go ahead. This President seem’s to feel that if he talks hard and long enough the problems will fix themselves. This approach has failed in Iran already. I see the same outcome in Afganistan unless someone is willing to make a decision based on military knowledge and free of political overtones.


  2. Tom |

    Larry, to describe General McChrystal as “untried” is completely wrong. He was sent to Afghanistan not long ago precisely because he is one of the very best, most highly respected, appropriately experienced officers in the Army. He’s doing his job, which is to try to execute the strategy of the President and the Secretary of Defense. What he’s doing now is telling them that he can’t do it without more troops, and he’s doing it in pretty blunt terms.

    No one “in his entourage has even the remotest foreign policy savvy?” I could give you a long list of people who are respected experts in military and foreign affairs in the Administration. Secretary of Defense Gates and National Security Advisor General James Jones are obvious examples, and they’re the key players on this issue, along with Secretary of State Clinton. All of these senior officials have deep staffs with years of experience and significant expertise in foreign policy and military affairs.

    The Administration’s initial strategy for Afghanistan may have made sense in the beginning, but it doesn’t now, given the behavior of the Taliban and the corrupt presidential election in Afghanistan. I admire Obama for his apparent willingness to back away from what he said in the beginning and consider other alternatives.


  3. larry |

    Tom
    You and I both know that time in the field and in country make a good commander. McChrystal was Obama’s choice. That he was the best choice remains to be proven. As you so aptly put it, he is there to execute the strategy of the President and Defense Secretary. It appears that their strategy is lacking. Without a strategy the General’s worth is a moot point.
    Your evaluation of the Presidents staff and advisers is far to kind and far to assuming.
    Maybe he does see where he dropped the ball in Afghanistan and needs time to recover. I hope he gets it right before we loose more people but, deep down inside, I don’t think the man has a clue.


  4. Brian Bagent |

    Tom, if Obama’s staff is as astute at foreign affairs as you assert, then why does he continue with gaffe after gaffe overseas? Is his pride compelling him to simply ignore their advice? Surely they would have told him not to bow to Fahd, and surely they would have told him not to yuck it up with Chavez. Surely they would have told him that apologizing to every tin-pot dictator around the world wasn’t going to be effective.

    Playing the role of the supplicant is very rarely a good idea, and it is most especially not a good idea when the obsequious behavior is directed at people that demand obsequious behavior from their subjects. That lesson should have been drilled home on 1 Sept 1939.


  5. Tom |

    The point is that disagreement with Obama’s policy preferences and actions (some of which I also disagree with) doesn’t mean ipso facto that he and his advisers are ignorant, untried, lacking savvy, etc. Sometimes there’s an automatic assumption that those who disagree with us are ignoramuses or, worse, just plain evil. That’s rarely the case, at least in American politics.


  6. Brian Bagent |

    As much as I dislike RMN, he dealt with the Chinese quite deftly. Obama’s foreign policy so far seems to be to spread both cheeks and forgo lubricant as well.

    It has been said the the administration had asked McChrystal to delay submission of his report. One need not be clairvoyant to have an idea why. This may yet be the greatest blunder of this administration. How on earth can one deal with facts when one refuses to hear the facts from the man nearest to them? I will charitably offer that this is a clownish act.


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