No End In Sight. . .In Afghanistan

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holbrooke1.jpg
(photo credit: Spencer Ackerman)
US military crusade chronicler Spencer Ackerman has written a long, thoughtful treatment of the issues and players wrestling over the tough calls President Obama must soon make on America’s course in Afghanistan. It’s titled “The Decision” and appears in The National.
I strongly recommend reading the entire piece, but here is a chunk I wanted to share:

The Bush administration viewed Afghanistan as a nation-building sinkhole that distracted from the war it wanted to fight. Accordingly, the military prioritised Iraq, and so no talented officer had any incentive to innovate in Afghanistan. The Democratic Party, all the way up to Barack Obama, insisted that Afghanistan was the truly necessary war, and turned it into a cudgel to be used against the Iraq war. American Journalists made careers in Iraq and barely asked for embeds in Afghanistan; their editors ticked the box by running an annual short feature, usually about how Afghanistan was the “forgotten war”. There was no critical thought from anyone about arresting Afghanistan’s deterioration, and half-true clichés about a “Graveyard of Empires” accumulated. That was the brittle architecture underlying the national consensus about Afghanistan. Without the supporting wall of Iraq, it has now collapsed.
Out of its wreckage, Obama will make two critical decisions in the coming weeks: whether a counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan is suitable for the country’s woes; and whether a second troop increase in the span of a year is required to wage it. Obama’s advisers, military and civilian, are locked in a debate over how to provide an alternative to Holbrooke’s admission. Some, like Vice President Joseph Biden, contend that the complexities of counterinsurgency are both insurmountable and unmoored from the stated goal of removing al Qa’eda as a security threat. Others, like Generals David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal, contend that the United States has already spent eight years attacking al Qa’eda and senior Taliban leaders without regard for the conditions in Afghanistan and Pakistan that the militants exploit to retain support.
But there is another debate layered on top of that one, both inside the administration and across the Washington foreign-policy community in general. That debate is about the meaning of the Afghanistan war and the scope of American commitment to it. But it is also about what lessons to draw from the Iraq war, and whether they can be exported to Afghanistan.
All of the ideological attention in Washington previously committed to Iraq is now flooding into Afghanistan – or at least to the simulacrum of Afghanistan that exists in Washington. That still-congealing ideology forms the prism through which Obama’s ultimate decisions will be viewed. What was once a relatively simple (though operationally complex) mission to avenge the September 11 attacks has since been overtaken by theories about how to establish lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan. If those theories are correct, the United States may endure a period of bloody hardship but reap the benefits of radically diminishing the threat of al Qa’eda. If not, it will court disaster.

I spoke today to one of the nation’s very top analysts of affairs in Afghanistan and Pakistan and this person made the point that whereas the military establishment fired a general in the course of the war and has tried to push reset to deal with realities on the ground as they have found them — whether one believes in the course the Pentagon is taking or not — the political strategy is simply missing, ad hoc, seemingly without strategic depth. This person asked how the administration could not have planned for the election scenarios, fraud, and general mismanagement of the civil society scene during these last few months.
And this person has generally been strongly supportive of both US military and non-military engagement in Pakistan and Afghanistan — but this person echoes my own sentiments that the administration is confused, disoriented, and multi-headed about what to do in Afghanistan.
After eight years of inertia-driven engagement, it’s time to work out a new strategy and endgame.
— Steve Clemons

Comments

42 comments on “No End In Sight. . .In Afghanistan

  1. DonS says:

    And any sane person is hoping Obama is taking a decision to do nothing, as prelude to reducing commitment in Afghanistan, and getting out. He’s got a huge task in doing so is huge, given his “war of necessity” excessive rhetoric. I care less about “failed presidencies” than I do about right decisions. In this political climate, any politico who is working for his/her next election rather than trying to get it right for a change is part of the problem; scum actually.

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  2. nadine says:

    “So any decision is better than no decision? That’s a concept we can rally round.”
    Nearly. No decision is also a decision – almost always a bad one. Note: a deliberate decision to do nothing is quite different from doing nothing due to indecision. It reads differently, and it leads to different results.
    Public Hamlet acts are the shortest road to a failed presidency. Think Jimmy Carter in the Rose Garden.

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  3. DonS says:

    “Whether you approve or disapprove, sacking the head of CENTCOM is hardly a sign of indecisiveness.”
    So any decision is better than no decision? That’s a concept we can rally round.

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  4. nadine says:

    easy e,
    So please explain why we haven’t forced Iraq to sell us their oil for 50 cents a barrel? If all our foreign adventures are for oil, then WHERE IS OUR OIL?

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  5. nadine says:

    Whether you approve or disapprove, sacking the head of CENTCOM is hardly a sign of indecisiveness.
    When Bush was in doubt of his policy, he kept silent about it. There was no public agonizing.

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  6. DonS says:

    Hey Dan, maybe Nadine could use her good offices to persuade Bibi to send a bunch of IDF troops to Afghanistan to get blown up by IEDs and otherwise maimed. After all it’s largely about fulfilling the legacy of neocon policy that Obama doesn’t seem to be able to put to bed. And we all know that the cornerstone of neocon policy radiates from Israel firsters.

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  7. Dan Kervick says:

    “Dan, there is a world of difference between doing an internal strategy review, such as Bush did for Iraq in 2006 and Afghanistan in 2008, and broadcasting your distrust in your own current strategy and generals, which is what Obama is doing with his current Hamlet act.”
    You mean like when Bush and his “brain trust” made clear their distrust of Army chief of staff Eric Shinseki, and then when he later sacked the head of CENTCOM in the middle of the war?

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  8. Neo Controll says:

    Why don’t you just repeat yourself ad nauseum ‘nadine’. Maybe you’ll get us to believe that Obama should just get over it and give the generals a blank check which, in the end he might do anyway.
    Business slow as hasbarist central?

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  9. nadine says:

    Dan, there is a world of difference between doing an internal strategy review, such as Bush did for Iraq in 2006 and Afghanistan in 2008, and broadcasting your distrust in your own current strategy and generals, which is what Obama is doing with his current Hamlet act. This emboldens our enemies who think they have a new opening to make up Obama’s mind for him.
    Internal strategy reviews are proper for any executive. Public Hamlet acts are not.

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  10. easy e says:

    Posted by DonS, Nov 05 2009, 10:33AM – Link
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    Alternative energy and “stability” threatens the forces that run this country—the war profiteers and MIC.

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  11. DonS says:

    Oh yeah, e, the old pipeline gambit. Not that I had forgotten.
    But, shifting gears quickly, wouldn’t you think the US would get serious about alternative energy. Oh yeah, I forgot. That’s the oil baron problem too.
    Who runs this country anyway?

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  12. easy e says:

    Craig Murray, former UK ambassador:
    IT’S THE PIPELINE, STUPID
    Murray asserts that the primary motivation for US and British military involvement in central Asia has to do with large natural gas deposits in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. As evidence, he points to the plans to build a natural gas pipeline through Afghanistan that would allow Western oil companies to avoid Russia and Iran when transporting natural gas out of the region.
    Murray alleged that in the late 1990s the Uzbek ambassador to the US met with then-Texas Governor George W. Bush to discuss a pipeline for the region, and out of that meeting came agreements that would see Texas-based Enron gain the rights to Uzbekistan’s natural gas deposits, while oil company Unocal worked on developing the Trans-Afghanistan pipeline.
    “The consultant who was organizing this for Unocal was a certain Mr. Karzai, who is now president of Afghanistan,” Murray noted.
    Murray said part of the motive in hyping up the threat of Islamic terrorism in Uzbekistan through forced confessions was to ensure the country remained on-side in the war on terror, so that the pipeline could be built.
    “There are designs of this pipeline, and if you look at the deployment of US forces in Afghanistan, as against other NATO country forces in Afghanistan, you’ll see that undoubtedly the US forces are positioned to guard the pipeline route. It’s what it’s about. It’s about money, it’s about oil, it’s not about democracy.”
    The Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline is slated to be completed in 2014, with $7.6 billion in funding from the Asian Development Bank.
    Murray was dismissed from his position as ambassador in 2004, following his first public allegations that the British government relied on torture in Uzbekistan for intelligence.
    More here…http://rawstory.com/2009/11/ambassador-cia-people-tortured/

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  13. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “…..it is not necessary to post such large portions of other people’s writing”
    KERVICK……….
    Some of us, out here in rural America, do not have access to quick connection. For me, I am on dial-up, on an older system. I can’t watch videos, live stream, etc. Access numbers are limited, and some times of the day I have to change access numbers three or four times in the course of an hour or two, just to stay online. It is not unusual for me to click on a link, and wait five minutes for the site to load. Often, it times out, and it will take two or three tries before I access the desired site.
    Lighten up, man. For some of us, we would actually prefer to see the WHOLE article or essay, because it can, at times, save us a quarter of an hour of agravation. How long does it take you to scroll past a long post you aren’t interested in? 3 tenths of a second?

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  14. Outraged American says:

    This might explain Obama’s hesitation-he fears a military revolt.
    Daniel Ellberg: Leaked Pentagon Papers from Vietnam give clues
    to why Obama will most likely grant military requests to send
    more troops to Afghanistan.
    Like Vietnam, Ellsberg said “no victory lies ahead [for the US] in
    Afghanistan” and President Barack Obama knows it.
    Still, Ellsberg believes Obama will “go against his own instincts
    as to what’s best for the country and do what’s best for him and
    his administration and his party in the short run facing
    elections, which is to avoid a military revolt.”
    That means the president will likely authorize a sizable increase
    of US forces in the region, Ellsberg said, because Obama fears
    that top US military commanders will stage a revolt if he rejects
    their requests for additional soldiers.
    continues
    http://www.truthout.org/1102096
    h/t truthout via antiwar.com

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  15. DonS says:

    Nadine would love to see more troop committed; it is the neocon strategy. Who cares if the US military is stretched beyond reasonable. But I agree, Dan, that the reasons for delaying more troops is less about indecision than telegraphing a message, above and below so to speak: there will be no open ended commitment of troops, but there will likely be more so get used to it.
    Afghanistan is lost in terms of any reasonable strategy except get out as fast and with as little damage TO THE US as possible. And by the way the Afghans will work out their own destiny, perhaps not our ideal, but we no longer have a strategic interest in that country. So it’s time to go. Hoh is pretty lucid on the civil war angle; can you say Iraq all over again? Or Vietnam?
    Obama DID the buildup already, in the Spring, as he indicated he very likely would. If McChrystal can’t produce with that buildup — and he has indicated things have gotten worse — more troops will not turn the tide. Time for retreat. But that is apparently not in McChrystal’s DNA. Too bad. He’s not POTUS (not that I think Obama will call retreat anytime soon in a meaningful way. I thinks it’s immoral to leave troops there or to add more simply to save political face. And perhaps Obama was telegraphing some of that when he said he would consider the family impacts in deciding strategy. Perhaps.

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  16. Dan Kervick says:

    samuleburke, it is not necessary to post such large portions of other people’s writing. A simple link with an introductory sentence would do the trick.

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  17. Dan Kervick says:

    Obama isn’t broadcasting indecision. He is only broadcasting that he is so far undecided, which is quite different. I don’t know what kind of “executive experience” Nadine has, but in my company these kinds of thorough decision-making processes sometimes occur at the top executive level. The company recently made a series of major strategic decisions that were preceded by a several-month process of fact-finding, meetings and deliberation on current company structure and resources, our strengths and weakness, emerging market conditions and shifts in demand, etc. The CEO’s team gathered information, put in “due diligence” and eventually came out with a strategic plan that is now being implemented. I can tell you that there is an improved feeling of confidence, teamwork and morale at the company now that we believe we are executing a serious and sensible long-term plan that is the product of rational deliberation, and are not as driven by the short-term, top line goals that motivated the previous CEO.
    One has to wonder what is the source of so much grinding of teeth and stamping of feet about the fact that Obama has decided to undertake a process of strategic review and planning. I would suggest that the people who are doing most of this are simply afraid of the kinds of decisions that might be reached, because they lack confidence in the rationality of their own preferred strategic course of action. People who are confident that their plan represents the best course of action generally don’t fear a thorough process, but welcome it as an opportunity to make their case, and to develop support for their project and commitment to it.
    Of course, strategic reevaluation is always going to be resisted by people who are stakeholders in the current direction. And there are always *a lot* of people like that following a two-term presidency. The people who are most invested in the status quo, and dependent on it, are worried that their personal status is under threat and that some of their own fiefdoms might get the axe. Our national security establishment is filled with people and departments for whom careers, livelihoods and prospects for advancement depend on a continuation of some of the strategic directions established under Bush.
    The only thing that has happened here is that Obama decided that this matter of Afghanistan was very major national business, and a central component of a broader national security policy that was in need of strategic review. He also realized that the national security apparatus that he largely inherited from his predecessor contained some departments with very different ideas about what we were trying to do in Afghanistan. So he caused some stuff that had previously been in the hands of subordinates to be kicked upstairs for review. Some of these subordinates, primarily McChrystal, were under the impression that the strategic direction had already been set, and that he had been handed Afghanistan as his own department to run as he sees fit. It turned out he was wrong. He and his people are clearly miffed that the top man has temporarily taken the major decisions out of McChrystal’s hands.

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  18. samuelburke says:

    By George F. Will
    Wednesday, November 4, 2009
    “Actress Cate Blanchett, who has played Queen Elizabeth I, is performing here, portraying someone less than regal — flurried, anxious Blanche DuBois, in Tennessee Williams’s “A Streetcar Named Desire.” If Obama administration officials involved in formulating Afghanistan policy see her, they should wince when she speaks DuBois’s signature line: “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”
    The U.S. mission — whatever it is; stay tuned — in that fractured semi-nation depends on substantially increased competence and radically reduced corruption among the strangers governing in, if not much beyond, Kabul. One stranger is Afghanistan’s president. We are getting to know him well.
    On Jan. 29, 2002, just 114 days after the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan began, President George W. Bush, during his State of the Union address, introduced to a joint session of Congress and to a national television audience a man in the gallery of the House chamber — “the distinguished interim leader of a liberated Afghanistan, Chairman Hamid Karzai.” Interim no more, he has won — or at least secured — another five years in office. Abdullah Abdullah, whom Karzai defeated in Aug. 20’s ruinous election — fraudulent ballots, bogus polling places, one-third of Karzai’s votes disallowed — has decided not to participate in a runoff, partly because it was to be conducted by those who supervised the first election. When it was reported that Abdullah was thinking about withdrawing, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s response was inane: “We see that happen in our own country where, for whatever combination of reasons, one of the candidates decides not to go forward. I don’t think it has anything to do with the legitimacy of the election.” So, Afghanistan is just like America — candidates decide “not to go forward.”
    After hearing that Abdullah would withdraw, Clinton said, “I do not think it affects the legitimacy. . . . When President Karzai accepted [the runoff] without knowing what the consequences and outcome would be, that bestowed legitimacy from that moment forward.” So, the U.S. government chooses to believe that legitimacy descends upon Karzai simply because he agreed to another election controlled by his operatives. Such desperate sophistry is dismaying evidence of the mentality of the Obama administration as it contemplates the military’s request for a substantial increase of U.S. forces, just eight months after the latest increase.
    Remember the reason given for that one? In March President Obama increased U.S. forces in Afghanistan. In September he said: “I did order 21,000 additional troops there to make sure that we could secure the election, because I thought that was important.” The election was indeed important.
    Last Sunday, on “This Week,” Valerie Jarrett, one of the president’s confidants, was asked whether Karzai’s demolition of the process that was supposed to legitimize him will “cast a cloud over President Karzai and make it more difficult . . . to implement [the president’s] strategy.”
    Jarrett replied: “We don’t think that it’s going to add a complication to the strategy. . . . We’re going to work with the leader of the Afghan government and hopefully that’s going to improve the state of conditions for the people in Afghanistan, and also help us as we try to bring this war to a close.”
    Hopefully? Talk about the audacity of hope. Jarrett perhaps signaled the goal that the president’s strategy, which is a work in progress, is to serve — bringing the war “to a close.” Barack Obama has no intention of being a war president.
    Already the annual cost of America’s errand in Afghanistan is larger than that country’s GDP. U.S. success depends on Afghans perceiving the central government as legitimate, which they will not do for at least five more years. Americans, led by a commander in chief whose heart is not in it, will not sustain the years of casualties and other costs necessary to create self-sufficient Afghan security forces beneath a corrupt regime.
    On July 24, 2008, in Berlin, Obama stressed the need to “defeat the Taliban.” Then, however, he spoke as a “citizen of the world,” not as president. Now he is being presidential by reconsidering some implications of the politically calculated rhetoric that helped make him president. He is rightly ignoring those who cannot distinguish thinking from dithering.
    President Woodrow Wilson, looking censoriously at some nations to America’s south, reportedly vowed, “We will teach them to elect good men.” Whatever strategy Obama adopts, its success cannot depend on America teaching Afghans to do that. If he is looking for a strategy that depends on legitimacy in Kabul, he is looking for a unicorn.”
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/11/03/AR2009110302925_pf.html

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  19. samuelburke says:

    “Following the example of the currently fashionable pro-Israel group J Street, which chose a Washington DC letter street that does not actually exist for the name of its lobby, I would like to propose a new lobby that would also be based on a non-address, X Street. Membership in X Street will be open to all American citizens of every race, national origin, and religious belief. It will be guided by a unifying principle, that preservation of the liberties defined in the constitution and support of the national interest of the United States should be the sole objectives of any and all foreign policy. It would be the modern embodiment of George Washington’s warning to steer clear of foreign involvements and to be a friend to all.
    X Street recognizes that America’s lopsided support of the state of Israel has made the United States a target of terrorism, has weakened the US’s international standing and damaged its reputation, and has negatively impacted on the American economy. The United States will advise Israel that its settlement policy is in violation of numerous UN resolutions and that it opposes on principle the continuing denial of any rights to West Bank and Gazan Palestinians. Washington will no longer use its veto power to protect Israeli interests in the UN and other international bodies. As Israel is now the twenty-ninth wealthiest nation in the world per capita, all US economic and military assistance will cease immediately. The United States will publicly declare its knowledge that Israel has a nuclear arsenal and will ask the Israeli government to join the NPT regime and subject its program to IAEA inspection. The purpose is not to punish Israel but to make it like every other country vis-à-vis the United States – a friend and a trading partner, but there will be no free ride and no presumption of a “special relationship.” There will be no special relationships with anyone.”
    http://original.antiwar.com/giraldi/2009/11/04/a-manifesto-for-x-street/

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  20. samuelburke says:

    The political forces that drive these incursions into the muslim lands need to be addressed within america by americans and their politicians. The agents of influence formulating these policies, that create the arguments and reasons for these incursions at the think tanks, and argue for them in americas electronic press and newspaper editorial spaces, have an agenda that is driven by an interest in a project that is failed and will continnue to fail.
    the suppression of the Goldstone report is an example of those forces and the political power that they wield in america.
    phil giraldi over at antiwar.com has this piece out today.
    “Why are these matters being litigated in civil court as a family squabble between members of the Israel lobby? If espionage is a recurring, institutionalized feature of AIPAC, doesn’t that mitigate against its claims to be an American non-profit, working for American interests? From the NRA to the AARP, no legitimate American nonprofit lobby has ever been found to be trafficking in so much intelligence information, or so frequently channeling it to a foreign government parties and friends in the establishment media.
    Newly emerging declassified facts are reminders to concerned Americans that AIPAC is not at all what it claims to be. Rosen’s lawsuit will not likely make good on his and former lobbyist Douglas Bloomfield’s implicit threats to reveal AIPAC as a stealth, unregistered foreign agent of the Israeli government.
    Fortunately for Americans, that uncomfortable fact is now emerging in myriad ways, even in the midst of AIPAC’s new attempts to engineer policies that could accelerate the downfall of the US economy.”
    http://original.antiwar.com/smith-grant/2009/11/04/why-does-aipac-spy-on-americans/

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  21. ... says:

    personally i think the focus is much too much on obama when it needs to be on a consistent predictable usa foreign policy of war in some way shape or another… when are the american people going to wake up and smell the coffee and depleted uraniam?? quit fixating on obama.. he is just a figurehead for a country that has been off track for so long, it doesn’t seem to have a clue how far off track it has gotten… same goes for the yahoos in the military who only know how to focus on the same bullshit…

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  22. bks says:

    McChrystal wants more troops? Has any General ever requested fewer troops? There is no “endgame” in Afghanistan. It’s a good thing no one is supplying the population with stinger missiles or there’d be US helicopters littering the landscape. What happened to the authochthonous troops we’ve been training for *twice the length of WWII*? Just say “Oops” and get out.
    –bks

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  23. nadine says:

    Zathras, I think you make a good point here:
    “I wonder if Obama, who is clearly influenced a great deal by having been immersed in campaign politics for so many years, is not having as much difficulty settling the kinds of process and presentation issues campaign politics did not prepare him for as he is deciding the substantive questions. Who gets listened to within a campaign organization isn’t generally decisive in how well the campaign does, and everyone defers to the necessity of ascribing idea and insight to the candidate anyway. Chains of command aren’t that important either. Government is different. A President, especially one trying to deal with a war, has to hurt the feelings of some subordinates and push others toward the spotlight. This doesn’t come naturally to most politicians or to Obama in particular, but he’s going to need to overcome this consequence of his inexperience in a hurry. My sense right now is that he is fighting this problem, not solving it.”
    The way he staffed his administration can only have made things worse. All those czars! What is the chain of command? It must be an administrative nightmare. Clearly there is no separation between the political guys and the policy guys; Rahm and Axelrod pop up everywhere whether discussing the NJ election or Afghanistan. Frankly, it looks like a real mess.

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  24. nadine says:

    Unlike his predecessors in office, Obama not only has no fp experience, he has no executive experience either. Somebody needs to tell him that broadcasting indecision is harmful in itself. He needs to get off his duff and make a decision.
    I don’t even understand what is causing him such agonies. McChrystal is his hand picked commander and is following the strategy that Obama decided only last spring. McChrystal says he needs more troops to succeed; why not give them and let him try? Surely the only viable alternative is to pull out and hand the country to the Taliban, if you call that a viable alternative.
    Is Obama suffering from “analysis paralysis”? That’s what it looks like from here.

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  25. Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi says:

    I find no iota of doubt in endorsing the Spencer Ackerman’s discernment regarding the Afghan problem. One may have sufficient reasons to support the thesis that the real roots of the US administration’s orchestrated Afghan policy- dilemma lie in its ill- practices of formulating the long term strategies simply based on hypothetically targeted/ engineered strategic designs of waging wars.

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  26. Zathras says:

    I’m not sure a thread like the one here is the right place for this observation, but one fair comment on the Obama administration’s policy toward Afghanistan is that its military component is being made by a chain of command, its civilian component by a committee.
    Look, Barack Obama is green as grass when it comes to foreign policy and national security affairs. Everyone knows this. He has no more experience than his two immediate predecessors in the Oval Office, neither of whom covered themselves in glory in this area during their first year as President. Having had more difficult problems dropped in his lap than either Bill Clinton or George W. Bush did, President Obama has to be expected to fumble some decisions and get others wrong. Most new Presidents do.
    I’m more concerned by how Obama has set up his foreign policy team to deal with an exceptionally troublesome and dangerous situation like Afghanistan. He’s open to all sorts of views, which is a good thing all else being equal. The problem is that all else is not equal. Having Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Clinton, National Security Adviser Jones, Ambassador Eikenberry, the Chicago political operatives imported into the White House from the campaign and a host of other people all equally content that their point of view is being heard is not a good enough thing to be worth prolonged debate over a strategy that no one person is to be in charge of implementing.
    The military side of Afghan policy I understand. There isn’t any question who’s in charge: Gen. McChrystal is. He reports to Gen. Petraeus, through him to Sec. Gates and thence to the President. The civilian side of policy needs something similar in order to be effective — which means, able to decide on what needs to be done, acquire the resources to do it, and finally to do it in a timely manner. That means, in turn, that a number of people in the President’s deliberative circle are going to need to be either cut out completely (Biden, Axelrod, Emanuel) or removed from operational decisions like the supervision of Afghan elections (Clinton).
    If the civilian side of counterinsurgency is as important a factor in success as the military advocates of counterinsurgency say it is, it can’t be encumbered with as many cooks in the kitchen as Obama has now. It’s also going to need one official as in charge publicly of the civilian side of this war as McChrystal is on the military side. That official cannot be the President, who has much too much else to do.
    I wonder if Obama, who is clearly influenced a great deal by having been immersed in campaign politics for so many years, is not having as much difficulty settling the kinds of process and presentation issues campaign politics did not prepare him for as he is deciding the substantive questions. Who gets listened to within a campaign organization isn’t generally decisive in how well the campaign does, and everyone defers to the necessity of ascribing idea and insight to the candidate anyway. Chains of command aren’t that important either. Government is different. A President, especially one trying to deal with a war, has to hurt the feelings of some subordinates and push others toward the spotlight. This doesn’t come naturally to most politicians or to Obama in particular, but he’s going to need to overcome this consequence of his inexperience in a hurry. My sense right now is that he is fighting this problem, not solving it.

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  27. JohnH says:

    “How this sensible and limited goal turned into a project to conquer, pacify and statify all of Afghanistan I don’t know.” Unless the goal all along was to secure the pipeline route from Turkmenistan to the Indian Ocean. Brezinski, in a rare display of candor in Washington, recently talked about it in his keynote speech in the Chamber of the Senate, sponsored by RAND and backed up by NAF. http://www.c-spanarchives.org/library/index.php?main_page=product_video_info&products_id=289694-1

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  28. Steve Clemons says:

    Someone I know recently met with Obama and discussed
    Afghanistan. The report I got back is that in this person’s view,
    Obama was anguished about the decision on Afghanistan —
    working it very hard. The person I spoke to said this process had
    aged Obama — which I haven’t heard anyone else say. This is a
    good thing — and better in many ways than decisions by gut with
    swagger thrown in. I do respect the people involved in these
    decisions — but there is a clear management problem in our
    Afghanistan strategy that has to be resolved, and I don’t have
    confidence it will. More on this stuff later — thanks for everyone’s
    efforts to get the tone of things back on an appropriate track.
    Steve Clemons

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  29. Dan Kervick says:

    “Out of its wreckage, Obama will make two critical decisions in the coming weeks: whether a counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan is suitable for the country’s woes …”
    If that is the decisions he is working on, then he is working on the *wrong* decision. Afghanistan’s multitude of “woes”, most of which have a variety of historical causes preceding US action in the country, are an inappropriate and extravagant focus for US national security strategy.
    There was an excellent reason to go into Afghanistan in 2001. There were apparently some nasty jihadist bad guys holed up there, who were training and plotting to kill Americans and others. We attacked them, killed a bunch of them, arrested some of them, and scattered some of the rest. Mission accomplished. Al Qaeda, last I heard, has now been shrunken down to a few small remnants. We pay our spooks to tell us where the rest of them are, and if they get into our sites we can either nab them or blow them up. How this sensible and limited goal turned into a project to conquer, pacify and statify all of Afghanistan I don’t know.
    Now we have the same preposterous vaulting ambitions at work in Afghanistan that we had in Iraq. Our military is still desperate to prove they can conquer, dominate and Americanize any country they want to, as long as we give them enough resources. The same crazed liberal interventionist boy scouts and girl scouts who got into so much mischief when they went to work on their Iraq Civil Society merit badge now want to turn Afghanistan into their Senior Project.
    We have two intelligible and vital aims in that region: the long-term project of keeping the government of Pakistan and its bombs out of the hands of radical yahoos; and the extended mop-up and round-up of those remaining Al Qaedists and their ilk who are not just harmless, ultra-religious jerkoffs, but are capable of inflicting serious damage on us.
    The rest is fubar.

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  30. JohnH says:

    Obama’s problem may not be a strategic one. He may well realize the need for an endgame.
    But if you watched Obama’s chilling salute to 18 fallen soldiers at Dover AFB, you had to be worried. He conducted himself not as Commander in Chief, but as one of the military–saluting in military fashion, marching in lock-step with the military brass.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/10/29/obama-heads-to-dover-air-_n_337930.html
    Instead of a strategic choice, Obama may face the excruciating decision of whether to risk a confrontation with the military or not. McChrystal has been goading him, seemingly begging for a confrontation.
    DeGaulle had the authority to quell the mutiny of top generals in Algeria. But Obama is no DeGaulle.
    http://www.time[dot]com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,897733,00.html

    Reply

  31. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “I treat you POA, precisely the way that you treat me”
    And what has Nina ever done to you?

    Reply

  32. Steve Clemons says:

    Thanks for your clarification Wig – but just to be clear, there will be times when I do criticize Richard Holbrooke. It’s the nature of this business — but it is never appropriate to mix peoples’ personal relationships in this kind of commentary. I just won’t tolerate it.
    And this really should be a norm that everyone on this blog follows.
    Thanks — and let’s move on,
    Steve Clemons

    Reply

  33. Paul Norheim says:

    “…and half-true clichés about a “Graveyard of Empires” accumulated.”
    Well, if that`s a half-true cliché – how about a “Graveyard of National Governments”?

    Reply

  34. WigWag says:

    “A courtesy the venomous wretch can’t seem to extend to Nina and I.” (POA)
    I treat you POA, precisely the way that you treat me. That’s exactly what I plan to continue to do.
    “However, I have to say that you`ve always been fair to me.” (Paul Norheim)
    I treat you Paul, precisely the way that you treat me. That’s exactly what I plan to continue to do.

    Reply

  35. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “I just want to be clear that no one who comments on this blog has the right to presume and mess with my private relationships with people”
    A courtesy the venomous wretch can’t seem to extend to Nina and I.

    Reply

  36. Paul Norheim says:

    WigWag,
    One thing is implying an envoy, but why bring in wives as well?
    The same goes for mentioning Nina while attacking POA.
    Perhaps this habit is not beneath you, but it should be.
    However, i have to say that you`ve always been fair to me.

    Reply

  37. WigWag says:

    We agree than about Holbrooke; he’s a hero for taking on a terrible job and people should cut him a little slack. Why anyone would take on such a thankless job is beyond me. Frankly I think Holbrooke is a patriot in the best meaning of the word. Americans of every political persuasiion should be thanking him for taking on such daunting tasks.
    We also agree about Kati Marton. I envy you for knowing her. She is not only a wonderful journalist but she has written a compelling book that everyone should read. I am grateful to you for recommending it.
    But I do think you are being just a little unfair to me. After all, you wrote a post where you sharply criticized the Administration’s handling of Afghanistan and you put a large picture of Richard Holbrooke on the top of it. And you have to admit that if your comments about the Administraton’s Afghanistan policy aren’t *bashing,* at the very least they are *sustained,* frequent* and *quite critical.*
    Was it so unreasonable for me to assume that you were making an implicit criticism of Holbrooke himself?
    Anyway, I’m glad that you weren’t.
    All the best!

    Reply

  38. Steve Clemons says:

    POA — I don’t want this escalated. I just want to be clear that no one who comments on this blog has the right to presume and mess with my private relationships with people. I think WigWag plays a valuable role on this blog — and I don’t want to monitor every post of ever commenter — but when someone purposely crosses a private line with me, that’s really not something I can accept.
    So this is a friendly call for responsible behavior, responsible retraction, and a new, constructive course. Wig knows well that I have great respect for Holbrooke. Anyone that googles my name and Richard Holbrooke will see that — but that doesn’t mean that anyone is infallible or that the political depth of the Obama administration’s Afghanistan course is what it should be.
    best, steve

    Reply

  39. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “You are better than that”
    No she’s not. Actually, she worse than that.
    Wait until she gets it in her head that telling you you’ve got a small penis buttresss her positions. And for God’s sake, don’t make the mistake of telling her your partner’s name, if you don’t want your partner being a part of her sociopathic musings.

    Reply

  40. Steve Clemons says:

    Wig — please keep it out of the personal. I have written many times about my respect for Richard Holbrooke — and you know that. And I think that he has the most challenging, toxic portfolio in foreign policy today. That doesn’t mean he and the others in the administration are playing the strongest hand they should or can. There is nothing in what I wrote above that can be characterized as “bashing.” You are better than that — and you should retract the last line of your provocative comment. Presuming on my personal relationships in that way is way beneath you.
    Steve Clemons

    Reply

  41. WigWag says:

    “And this person has generally been strongly supportive of both US military and non-military engagement in Pakistan and Afghanistan — but this person echoes my own sentiments that the administration is confused, disoriented, and multi-headed about what to do in Afghanistan.” (Steve Clemons)
    If you think the Administration is confused, disoriented and multi-headed about Afghanistan you obviously think the person in charge of coordinating Af-Pak policy is doing a poor job. That would be the person pictured at the top of this post, Richard Holbrooke.
    Personally I think Holbrooke is one of the best diplomats we have. He would certainly have done a better job than the comic performance delivered by Hillary Clinton last week. But perhaps both Holbrooke and Clinton share the same problem; they work for a neophyte who doesn’t know anything about foreign policy and has bad instincts.
    Anyway Steve, despite the fact that you promoted her wonderful book at the Washington Note, it’s hard to believe that Kati Marton takes kindly to your bashing of her husband.

    Reply

  42. bks says:

    You must be joking. “A new strategy and endgame?” The only endgame is to get out ASAP. Consider today’s news:
    Hamid Karzai reaches out to ‘Taliban brothers’ in Afghanistan
    Hamid Karzai offered an olive branch to his “Taliban brothers” in a victory speech a day after he was declared president.

    In a televised speech he said: “We call on our Taliban brothers to come home and embrace their land”.

    versus
    The Taliban have said they carried out the fatal shooting of five British soldiers in Afghanistan, Prime Minister Gordon Brown has told the Commons.

    Reply

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