Obama's Afghanistan strategy
- From: PakistanPal <pakistanpal@xxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Sun, 18 Oct 2009 21:42:44 -0700 (PDT)
AFGHANISTAN could be the most important decision of Barack Obama's
presidency. Maybe that's why he is, in effect, making it twice.
What's odd about the administration's review of Afghanistan policy is
that it is revisiting issues that were analysed in great detail - and
seemingly resolved - in the President's March 27 announcement of a new
strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. The recent recommendations from
General Stanley McChrystal were intended to implement that Af-Pak
strategy - not send the debate back to first principles.
The March document stated that the basic goal was "to prevent
Afghanistan from becoming the al-Qa'ida safe haven that it was before
But to accomplish this limited mission, the President endorsed a much
broader effort to "reverse the Taliban's gains, and promote a more
capable and accountable Afghan government". That gap between end and
means has bedevilled the policy ever since.
So now the President is doing it again, slowly and carefully - as in
last Friday's three-hour White House meeting where, I'm told, he went
around the table and quizzed his national security aides, one by one.
Obama's deliberative pace is either heartening or maddening, depending
on your perspective. Personally, I think he's wise to take his time on
an issue in which it's so hard to know the right answer. But I worry
that the White House approach will soften the edges so much that the
policy itself will be fuzzy and doomed to failure.
As Obama's advisers describe the decision-making process, it sounds a
bit like a seminar. National Security Adviser Jim Jones gathers all
the key people so that everyone gets a voice. A top official explains:
"We don't get marching orders from the President. He wants a debate.
We take the competing views and collapse them toward the middle."
This approach produced a consensus on Iran and missile defence, and as
national security councils go, Obama's seems to work pretty smoothly.
Jones is now master of his own house, after a rocky start in which he
clashed with an inner "politburo" of aides who had been with Obama
during the campaign. Those younger aides are now out or in different
jobs, putting Jones more firmly in charge. Obama will be happy to have
a retired marine four-star general at the NSC when it comes time to
sell his Afghanistan policy to the military.
Obama's top advisers all stress how different his style is from that
of his predecessor, George W. Bush. And it's true, occasionally to a
One top aide draws the contrast this way: "Pragmatism versus ideology;
thoroughness of review versus instant decisions; consensus versus go-
it-alone." On Afghanistan, this aide stresses, Obama wants to avoid
any semblance of a "rush to war". Nine months on, that doesn't seem
like a danger.
Where Bush was chief executive - with an approach that could be
described as "decide or delegate" - Obama is more a chairman of the
Bush's tendency to make snap judgments led to some disasters, but as
James B. Stewart described in a recent New Yorker article, Bush
correctly left key decisions in the September 2008 financial crisis to
his Fed chairman and Treasury secretary, telling them: "If you think
this has to be done, you have my blessing." For better or worse, it's
hard to imagine Obama making a similar delegation of authority.
Obama's challenge on Afghanistan is to identify a mission there that
is achievable, and then to provide the necessary resources. He has
already ruled out simply walking away from the Afghanistan war - which
he rightly sees as a reckless course at a time when neighbouring
Pakistan is facing its own brutal onslaught from the Taliban.
But what is an achievable goal for US forces? Stabilising the whole
country is mission impossible, I'm afraid. But with some additional
troops, the US could provide security for major population centres in
the south and east. This would buy some time to train the Afghan army
and encourage President Hamid Karzai's efforts to reach a political
reconciliation with the Taliban. How many troops would this mission
take? That's a question for the military commanders.
Washington Post Writers Group
Article Source : http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,26210620-7583,00.html
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