Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Obama's "Play It By Ear" Afghanistan Strategy

Trust McClatchey Newspapers to get the story first. The news service is reporting that Obama has decided on a very conditional plan that could see as many as 34,000 more American forces sent to bolster the existing army in Afghanistan.

The committment comes with strings attached, apparently plenty of them:

The administration's plan contains "off-ramps," points starting next June at which Obama could decide to continue the flow of troops, halt the deployments and adopt a more limited strategy or "begin looking very quickly at exiting" the country, depending on political and military progress, one defense official said.
"We have to start showing progress within six months on the political side or military side or that's it," the U.S. defense official said.

It's "not just how we get people there, but what's the strategy for getting them out," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday.

The approach is driven in part by concerns that Afghan President Hamid Karzai won't keep his promises to root out corruption and support political reforms, and in part by growing domestic opposition to the war, the U.S. officials said.

Obama's plan seems to address all three of his potential threats - the Taliban, Karzai and his own military. Of the three, the Pentagon brass might just be the most troublesome.

You can sort of tell when American generals have figured out they're caught in a losing proposition. That's when their focus shifts from defeating the enemy to setting somebody up to take the fall for their failure. They did it in Vietnam and they're doing it in Afghanistan.

The unmistakeable warning sign when US Army types carefully leaked General McChrystal's report to Obama. That established the set up - give me another 40,000 troops or you can be on the hook for the loss of the AfPak war.

The American public may be fed up with the AfPak war but that doesn't mean they won't be looking for a scapegoat to tag with the failure. Bush/Cheney hopelessly screwed up this war but, when the music stops, it'll be Obama who won't have a chair.

Obama could have taken the easy way out - given in to McChrystal but that would have meant a committment to keep the war going until he, in turn, could dump it off on his successor. Rather than capitulate, Obama seems intent on doing what has rarely happened before - making his generals take responsibility for producing results.

These days it almost seems somehow unfair to tell your generals you expect them to win. It's that thinking that's produced such a mediocre bunch of generals in so many NATO countries, ours included. They fall all over each other to get a chance at command but then they just put in their time, get their ticket punched, and then hand off to the next guy in time for their hasty retirement.

It's no accident that General McChrystal is being hauled back to Washington this week to testify before the Senate. It's "put up or shut up" time for Stan. It should be fun to watch him duck and weave.

I just hope Obama's "off ramps" don't include on that would get his forces out before we can get ours safely home.


pogge said...

"We have to start showing progress within six months..."

It's the return of the Friedman Unit.

The Mound of Sound said...

I had to go online to find the definition of a Friedman Unit. But you're right... or at least we can hope so.

Of course modern Western military leaders are highly skilled at conjuring up great successes out of nothing.

I remember a Canadian general boasting how we had thousands of Taliban trapped in Panjwai and how it was a "surrender or die" moment for the insurgents. It sounded great until the bad guys simply gathered up their weapons and walked out through our lines one night.

I suppose it's because we pay more attention to our own generals but they've been feeding us pure bullshit every time they've opened their mouths ever since we got to Kandahar.