Erick's piece this morning couldn't be more appropriately timed, given the NYT story about what Obama plans to do in Afghanistan. It is clear that this President has surrounded himself with people that have little to no private sector experience and empowered them to flex any muscle of the federal machine that suits their fancy or ideological whimsy. As dangerous as it might be having a bunch of drunk teenagers running rampant with mommy and daddy's credit card, at least there are SOME mechanisms in place to prevent total disaster. Not so true when you let them fight wars.
The previous 92 days of dithering over what to do in Afghanistan has cost a lot of lives. While navels have been gazed at, and hands wrung, Soldiers have been making the ultimate sacrifice to defend freedoms their CinC and his cronies seem hell-bent on taking away from us here at home... all the while giving them no clear instruction on what to do or how to get it done.
With his speech tonight, Obama will finally be taking responsibility for how Afghanistan plays out in America's history books. Sources are telling the media that he plans to send more troops after all (a smaller number than requested), plans to focus on training Afghans on how to defend themselves, and plans to MAKE the Afghan and Pakistani Governments stop being corrupt. Wrapped around this tidy little package will be a firm timeline for withdrawal aligned with the timing of launching his re-election campaign. Color me cynical here.
I hope for the sake of our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines that this strategy will result in victory for America, and that we can bring our guys home. I hope that Afghans and Pakistanis can develop even a fraction of the love of freedom that we Americans still enjoy. I hope, above all hope, that we can rid the world of terrorists and destroy the idea in peoples' minds that terrorism serves any purpose in a world of freedom-minded societies. Given we are about to engage in a fight to leave rather than a fight to win, I have my doubts.
My hopes rest with Obama's war council, and which of the two factions he'll listen to going forward. On the one hand (the anti-surge team) we have Vice President Biden of Iraqi 3-part harmony fame with NO military experience (5 Vietnam deferments) and a Lt. General-turned-Ambassador, Karl W. Eikenberry. The "we need to win this thing" team consists of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, Gen. David H. Petraeus, and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff...as well as SecDef Robert M. Gates. Time will tell which side of this argument, over the longer term, will prevail.
Much of Obama's newer new strategy is eerily similar to then-President Bush's strategy vis a vis the "surge" in Iraq. More training, more boots on the ground, our soldiers embedding with their soldiers, and more emphasis on them standing up so we could stand down. What's different here...what's missing...is our direct engagement with the locals and living among them so as to gain their trust by assuring them we were willing to make the necessary sacrifices to keep them safe and that we would be there until they could handle security on their own. Obama is promising, up front, that we will be leaving very soon and they are going to have to sort all this out on their own after we're gone. This will not build any trust amongst the Afghans, and will only encourage the Taliban to hunker down and wait it out.
This passage from the NYT piece is instructive [emphasis mine]:
The key to Mr. Obama’s strategy is succeeding in an area where Mr. Bush failed: Training a reliable Afghan force, not only the national army but a series of local forces as well. Mr. Obama is trying a new approach, pairing newly-deployed American troops with specific Afghan units. Currently, the Afghan army is in the lead in only one of 34 provinces in the country, around the capital of Kabul.
In addition to the influx of troops, administration officials said they are taking other lessons from the Iraq surge, such as empowering local security forces to stand up to Taliban militants in their communities and enhancing the training of national forces by embedding American troops with Afghan counterparts and later pairing similarly sized American and Afghan units to fight side by side.
“We learned a lot of lessons, painful lessons, out of Iraq on how to do training,” said one official involved in the discussions.
Placing greater emphasis on training Military as well as local security forces is PRECISELY what Bush did in Iraq using the surge forces. The "painful lessons" learned by the Obama administration from President Bush are what it's going to cost him, politically, if this doesn't succeed. And, Obama's political costs are already staggering-he needs to keep the moderates by showing some strength and resolve, and he needs to woo the pacifists into believing his depth and breadth of war-waging experience and Nobel Peace prize-winning expertise will result in yet another Foreign Policy capitulation soon enough for everyone to get re-elected. Polls suggest he is failing both of these constituencies miserably, and increasingly so.
The most troubling aspect of the process that has led up to his second Afghanistan strategy in 8 months is the lack of effort Obama has committed to it:
Mr. Obama spent more than 20 hours in 10 meetings in the Situation Room with his top national security advisers from Sept. 13 until last Sunday. He also conducted other meetings with smaller groups or consulted one on one with select advisers. The early meetings focused intently on what the American goals should be, not even addressing the question of troop levels until later in the process, officials said.
Barack Obama has spent more time playing golf than he has spent trying to sort out what to do with a war he never wanted and continues to wage half-heartedly. One need only read this snip, again from the NYT, to recognize the half-measures being taken by Obama:
The central mission of the new strategy is the same as described by the White House after its last review in March — to focus on destroying Al Qaeda, the group that mounted the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and that still appears to have the reach to attack the United States. But regarding the Taliban, the administration’s latest review concluded that it need only degrade the capability of its various groups, some of which have close ties with Al Qaeda, on the assumption that they are indigenous and cannot be wiped out entirely.
Mr. Obama has sought to narrow America’s mission. There will be no talk of turning Afghanistan into a democracy — one of Mr. Bush’s central goals — and no discussion of “nation-building,” the officials said. But as they described it, some rudimentary nation-building is part of the plan, including helping the central government improve governance and curb corruption. Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, has made such promises in the past and never delivered; since he took office last month following an election marked by widespread fraud, he has made a series of new commitments to the United States, officials insist.
But clearly Mr. Obama does not trust the central government with much of the new American aid. Money will go to individual ministries depending on their performance, American officials have said in recent weeks. The United States, officials said, will also funnel more money and other assistance through local leaders to foster change from the bottom up, avoiding the country’s corrupt central coffers.
In summation: destroy Al Qaeda (mostly gone), degrade the Taliban's capabilities (they can't really be beaten outright), do a little rudimentary nation-building (but don't call it that), and help the government govern (but bypass them and give money directly to the ministries HE determines are worthy of the cash).
Not much of a plan if you ask me, but with any luck very few of our guys will get killed between now and when we load up and head home. After that Afghanistan and Pakistan will be on their own, and Obama can get started on his re-election.