Thursday, June 24, 2010

So who do we listen to re. Afghanistan, Karzai or Kissinger? (Sigh)


"The president of another country became a player in our country's political deliberations," says E. J. Dionne Jr. Well, Henry Kissinger has also offered his take. Any takers?

"[President Obama] still needs to make his objectives clearer, beginning with an answer to this question: Are we serious about beginning withdrawals next July? Given what's happened so far, we should be."
-- E. J. Dionne Jr., in his Washington Post column today,

by Ken

On the basic outline of the Afghanistan problem, I don't have any quarrel with Howie's take earlier today. Of course General McChrystal had to go. I can't see any reason why he and his people would have engaged in the Rolling Stone interview except to test the limits of their impunity -- unless maybe they thought there weren't any such limits. But dumping our Stanley still leaves us with the problem of Afghanistan, and it's not encouraging that the president chose to stress, in announcing the change in the war command, that this doesn't mean any change in our policy there, whatever it is.

Which is why I'm intrigued by E. J. Dionne Jr.'s column today, which delves into the behind-the-scenes tug of war apparently going on among the D.C. policy geniuses. "The McChrystal imbroglio," he writes, "highlighted the obstacles facing Obama's effort to find a third way between rival policy factions in his own White House."
Everyone on the president's team, including McChrystal, said they had signed off on the Obama compromise: to give McChrystal the troops he said he needed to improve the situation but to place a clear time limit on how long the troops would stay.

Yet the president's advisers continued to feud, sowing uncertainty about what the policy actually was. Those who had been against McChrystal's proposed buildup said Obama's declared July 2011 deadline for beginning troop withdrawals was firm. McChrystal's backers said the deadline was flexible.

The administration was openly divided over how effectively it could work with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Unlike McChrystal, Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry and Richard C. Holbrooke, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, have been far more critical of Karzai's leadership.

E.J. savors the irony that Karzai himself has joined in the hubbub rising from the Rolling Stone piece, offering his judgment that our Stanley is "the best commander the United States has sent to Afghanistan." E.J.'s wry note: "The president of another country became a player in our country's political deliberations."
Paradoxically, Karzai's supportive comments underscored why McChrystal had to be relieved. One little-noted passage in Michael Hastings's article underscored McChrystal's central problem. "The most striking example of McChrystal's usurpation of diplomatic policy is his handling of Karzai," Hastings wrote. "It is McChrystal, not diplomats like Eikenberry or Holbrooke, who enjoys the best relationship with the man America is relying on to lead Afghanistan. The doctrine of counterinsurgency requires a credible government, and since Karzai is not considered credible by his own people, McChrystal has worked hard to make him so."

A military strategy is supposed to fit the facts on the ground. But McChrystal was trying to invent an alternative reality to fit the facts to his counterinsurgency strategy, trying to turn Karzai into something he isn't. The open split on the American side has reduced Karzai's incentives to alter his behavior.

All of which still leaves us with the question: What the hell do we do?
Obama is not off the hook. On the contrary, he stuck with McChrystal, despite ample evidence that the general would go around the White House to push his own preferences.

Moreover, Obama's approach to Afghanistan was always a delicate balance, a Goldilocks strategy that was neither too hawkish nor too dovish: Escalate now to speed withdrawal. It was a nice idea, and maybe it can still allow us to leave behind a modestly improved situation.

The problem is that this careful equilibrium required everyone in the administration to pull together, accepting that the policy was settled and not open to constant challenge. It required very big egos to get along. It required Karzai to change. It required Obama to have real authority over our military.

Obama asserted that authority in a statement made after McChrystal's resignation that was gracious but firm, and he reminded his fractious team of the importance of a "unity of effort." But he still needs to make his objectives clearer, beginning with an answer to this question: Are we serious about beginning withdrawals next July? Given what's happened so far, we should be.

Sigh. Well, I need milk, and the store is about to close. So I'll just leave you with this thought: It is possible to get advice from Henry Kissinger. Yessir, old Hank the K is right there in today's Post, telling us: "America needs an Afghan strategy, not an alibi." Can we sink any lower?

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At 11:10 PM, Anonymous me said...

I still think that every last talib ought to be killed.

But more and more I feel that Obama doesn't know what the fuck he's doing. What is the mission?? Kill the taliban and al qaeda? They all moved to Pakistan! And we won't do anything about that.

We don't seem to be doing any good over there at all. Eight years of war, and we are in a worse position now than when we started. Jesus Fucking Christ.

And the one person most responsible for this mess - GW Bush - is walking around free as a bird, because of that worthless Obama.

And if that weren't enough, it's becoming apparent that the Dems are going to get their butts kicked in this year's elections. What a nightmare.

At least, in part thanks to you guys, the Dems we do get should be an improvement over the current crop.


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