By now, you've heard or seen the news: President Obama (D-IL) has accepted the resignation of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who had until now been in charge of the coalition's erstwhile efforts in Afghanistan, and is attempting to demote General David
Betray Us Petraeus from CENTCOM commander to czar of the eastern front of the Global War on Terror Isolated Effort to Diplomatically Prevent Man-Caused, Non-Islam-Related Disasters.
Though my friend, and fellow War on Terror-era veteran, John Noonan disagrees, as do eminent persons like Max Boot and Rich Lowry, I see this as a move which proves Obama's understanding of policy and strategy -- particularly that which went in to taking the Iraq effort from near-failure to success -- really don't go deeper than the most cosmetic level.
For the entirety of his term in office, Obama has been trying to have it both ways on Afghanistan -- refusing to make any actual decisions, while trying to avoid altogether reneging on his campaign pledge to win the war in Afghanistan at the expense of an Iraq effort he denigrated, and the success of which he has constantly denied.
His unwillingness -- if not utter inability -- to perform the Commander in Chief's job was put on display for all to see in 2009, when he took a full 10 months to "review" the situation in Afghanistan (a job done for him, and handed over on a silver platter, by the outgoing Bush administration). At the end of that interminable period, which saw American troops dying weekly while their National Command Authority wavered and dawdled, Obama finally made his Afghanistan policy public, issuing a stream of platitudes and half-measures which reflected a lack of understanding about – and an overall unwillingness to accept – the facts on the ground in the region and the gravity of America’s fight there.
Obama eventually issued an order for 30,000 more troops to deploy to Afghanistan, to augment the paltry 33,000 already on the ground in a country the size of Texas. Of course, this bold move by the neophyte president was nothing of the sort; the 30,000-troop 'surge' had already been set in motion by President Bush in November 2008, so all Obama did was fail to prevent it from being carried out.
By allowing that 'surge' in troops to go forward, labeling it a 'strategy,' and expecting the same outcome as was achieved by his predecessor in Iraq, Obama demonstrated that he, like so many others in the media and political establishments, had bought hook, line, and sinker the idea that the early 2007 'surge' in American troops deployed to the latter country was the bromide that squelched the terrorist resistance there and gave the Iraqi people the time, the resources, and the will to pull their ailing country together. This meme was pushed by a mainstream media which sold the comprehensive strategic overhaul brought to the table by General David Petraeus, and OK'd by then-President Bush, as being nothing more than a shipping-out of a few thousand more soldiers – an absurdly simplistic description of the massive changes made in order to provide the Iraqi people with both the security and the incentive to make the giant strides they have in the last two years.
With his decision to replace outgoing General McChrystal, a fine special operator but a man who was never able to find a way to succeed while facing the dual pressure of an incredibly complex situation in Afghanistan and a commander in chief who wanted no part of war or decision, with General Petraeus, Obama has revealed, and exhausted, the extent of what he seems to see as the "Iraq playbook." That playbook, if you will, consists of two items:
- Throw 30,000 troops at the problem.
- Make Gen. Petraeus the titular leader of the war effort.
In other words, this decision shows me that Obama has learned nothing from the Iraq effort except that 30k troops plus David Petraeus somehow magically equals massive turnaround and, quickly thereafter, victory. The only message this sends that is stronger than the one about Obama's utter lack of understanding about what actually happened in Iraq while he was busy trying to oppose the effort there at all costs, is that Obama really believes doing exactly what he thinks George W. Bush did is the way to win wars that are vital to our nation's security.
That's quite an admission for an administration whose entire problem-solving playbook consists of "blame George W. Bush" to be making, isn't it? (Add to that the admission, via attempted replication, that the Bush's Iraq strategy actually did bear significant fruit, despite Obama's repeated -- and ridiculous -- declarations otherwise).
Of course, it won't work. Throwing a single, unsupported man at an incredibly convoluted and difficult theater of war won't produce a magical turnaround, no matter how hard Obama wishes for it, and no matter how fervently he believes that's exactly what George W. Bush did.
Obama's effort to take the only two pages he recognizes out of George W. Bush's Iraq playbook make it incredibly likely that his Afghan effort will continue to be the antithesis of his predecessor’s Iraq success, achieving few if any strategic or tactical gains and instead leaving the 60,000 American GIs on the ground in that foreign land to serve as cannon fodder in mis- (or un-)directed pursuit of a "victory" Obama refuses to even define.
If Obama’s 'new strategy' -- last year's 'surge' and this year's appointment of Petraeus to lead the war effort -- ends up being less than an overwhelming success, it is likely that the calls for a mass withdrawal from the war-torn area and the key front in the War on Terror will escalate. Part of the stated rationale for this renewed call for surrender will be the claim that "we tried exactly what worked in Iraq," and because of the fact that it didn’t work, the war in Afghanistan must be "unwinnable."
"Unwinnable" or not, Obama's inability to grasp strategy and policy, and to actually make tough decision, make victory in this war on his watch highly, highly unlikely, Petraeus or no.