Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Obama Should Act in Afghanistan

The Afghan government needs to do more. But we have to understand that the situation is precarious and urgent here in Afghanistan. And I believe this has to be our central focus, the central front, on our battle against terrorism...

--Barack Obama
Candidate for the Democratic Presidential nomincation
July, 2008

The United States has a vital national security interest in addressing the current and potential security threats posed by extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan...The ability of extremists in Pakistan to undermine Afghanistan is proven,while insurgency in Afghanistan feeds instability in Pakistan.

---From the introduction to President Obama's March 2009 new policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan

In short, the President had it right in 2008 and in March 2009. Now, when the chips are down, he seems to be wavering. The President's appointed commander in Afghanistan has requested more troops. The President isn't forced to follow General McChrystal's request, but he should have a sound strategy if he isn't going to follow his appointed commanders advice. McChrystal is an expert in counter insurgency (unlike Joe "Foot-in-Mouth" Biden). If he feels we need more troops in Afghanistan, we should really consider putting more troops in Afghanistan.

The President may decide not to follow the General's advice because the President wants to withdraw from Afghanistan, or because he wants to replace McChrystal. Both of these are strategies that would make an influx of troops a bad idea. The worst thing the President could do is to freeze up, and that appears to be exactly what happened.

President Obama announced a new strategy in Afghanistan in March of this year. Shortly after that, McChrystal asked for additional troops. The President has delayed making a decision on that because he is looking for a new strategy in Afghanistan. If that's true, should we assume the "new strategy" from March has failed already? If not, the President should evaluate if the General's request fits in with his March strategy or not, then act.

The President appears to be floundering because he isn't sure how to handle disapproval in the polls. Many Americans are tried of Afghanistan. I personally believe we need to continue to fight there, and we need to give McChrystal the tools he needs to execute a winning strategy in Afghanistan. The President has found time to appear before the Olympic Committee, it's time to find time for our troops. The President is willing to go against the polls in the health care fight.

Surely our troops deserve the same dedication.


Rebecca said...

I agree that the President needs to do something about Afghanistan. I just heard on the news today that this month has been the deadliest for U.S. troops there in the entire war. Something needs to be done. If Obama's new strategy included increasing troop strength, then why doesn't he do what he said he would?

Andy D said...

I think he doesn't want to make the commitment because it's going to be unpopular with his base and with liberal Democrats. Obama doesn't have a history of going against the liberal side of his party, that's usually the side he looks to for campaign money. The current rumor is that he will make a decision after the runoff elections in Afghanistan...which just happen to be after the elections here.

Andy D said...

There is an excellent piece in the Wall Street Journal on this this morning. View it here

Seattle Dave said...

Pure conjecture on your part, Andy.

Are conservatives now mind readers?

Let's not forget the fact that 8 months before Pres. Bush's presidency was to end, a memo was distributed through the White House begging for more troops in Afghanistan. Both Pres. Bush, and Vice Pres. Cheney completely, and utterly, ignored the request.

I do think he has to make a decision soon. But frankly, I'm glad he's weighing all the options instead of doing something rash.

Andy D said...


You did see the words "I think" and "the current rumor is". The represent statements where I am guessing, or I have read reports from "anonymous" sources. I don't put a lot of credibility in anonymous sources, so I qualify the with the "rumor" statement.

The accusation that President Bush ignored a troop request for 8 months has been discredited by a an article from the Weekly Standard. Read it here. I will warn you ahead of time, it is going to tell you what I have seen in a number of different sources: The Bush transition team developed a new policy for Afghanistan; the Obama Administration asked them not to release it so they could review the situation; the Obama administration then released a "new way forward" in Afghanistan a few months into the Obama presidency that looked a lot like the review the Bush administration did.

I don't want the President to rush to judgement, but he has had plenty of time to look at what the situation is and make a decision. I truly believe this is a political move on his part. If he waits to announce a decision till late next week I will be right.

Patrick said...

I don't think it's a political move. Would you agree to send more troops knowing that your General is settling on a number of40,000 troops? Especially when he knows he needs more than twice that amount of troops to achieve success? I don't think he's had enough time to decide on the fate of many troops' lives.

In order to "win" this war, the U.S. would have to succumb to many more deaths per month than we've already endured. I'm not prepared for that, and I don't think Obama is either.

Andy D said...

My understanding is that McCrystal presented the Pentagon with two different plans, one for 40,000 troops and one for 60,000 troops. Both plans detailed how these troops would be used and where they would be used. It wasn't just a "give me these troops". If that's the case, and the General is willing to stand by either of those plans, then I think President Obama needs to comply with one plan or the other. To do anything else would mean that President Obama no longer has confidence in McCrystal. If that is true, he needs to replace the general.

Your second paragraph really worries me. In order to win the war, we may very well have to accept more deaths. Soldiers die. If used in combat, sometimes they die at a higher rate than in peace time. I don't want to belittle that point or sound flipant about it. My wife works directly with soldiers, and I have Gaurdsman that work with me. When we talk about the number of dead soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan, I put a face on those deaths.

Having said that, the simple thought that soldiers might die is not a reason to pick any course in the war. If we are afraid to have our soldiers hurt, we should return them to the states and prepare for our eventual take over by another country that isn't afraid to use their soldiers. I would also argue that by delaying making a decision in Afghanistan, President Obama is putting soldiers at risk if the General believes we need more troops there.

Obama should decide a course, and go with it.