Council on Foreign Relations President Emeritus Leslie Gelb has an interesting article over at the Daily Beast that is highly critical of the Obama administration’s decision to accept Georgia’s offer to send 750 soldiers to Afghanistan.
Gelb makes a persuasive argument that this decision is unlikely to have any appreciable consequences for our war against the Taliban, but will surely anger Moscow and complicate our efforts to get relations on a better track. He says
It’s hard to predict how irksome this issue will become in Russian-American relations. It might derail serious conversation for a long stretch. At a minimum, it will delay critical cooperation on Iran. But what’s truly troubling about this story is what it reveals, once again, about President Obama’s misunderstanding of strategy and priorities, or at the very least, his lack of appreciation for exactly what it takes to accomplish big priorities. To reset relations with Russia requires a host of key decisions, and it’s not clear that all or most of them have been made. First of all, Obama has to have a new overall U.S. strategy. What exactly does Obama want from Moscow and what will he give in return? What’s the bargaining sequence, or does he want to try for an overall deal? Does he want to wait to push Tehran until he lines up Moscow, or go ahead this fall without the Russians? The whole process will take a lot of high-level meetings. Who will take the lead–the president himself, Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton? And of course, Obama has to set in motion a palatable explanation for how this approach will affect the security of Georgia and Ukraine.
More broadly, Gelb makes an implicit point about the dangerous consequences that the Afghan war might have for Obama’s presidency.
The Afghan war has the potential to distract the Obama administration from the larger strategic issues of the day in a way that is analogous to Bush’s war in Iraq. Just as Iraq opened doors for Iran and aggravated fissures with our European allies, the war in Afghanistan has the potential to raise serious questions about the NATO alliance while complicating our relationships with China, Russia, and Europe.
Those wondering why we are in Afghanistan and what our exit strategy is will not be heartened by Gilles Dorronsoro’s op-ed in today’s Financial Times.
— Ben Katcher