The election in Afghanistan was less than perfect, to be charitable, and now the Obama administration sees an opening to stall on some major decision-making. While our soldiers are in the field, Obama decides to vote "present" on the strategy for Afghanistan.
Going on the 9th anniversary of the beginning of the war, General McChrystal, the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, wants a change in the execution of the war on the ground. Secretary of Defense Gates is walking a tightrope between supporting his generals and his commander-in-chief. After announcing last spring that he was sending additional troops to Afghanistan, it would appear the president has decided to put the war on the back burner as he concentrates on his vast domestic agenda.
This weekend's televised interview with General McChrystal does little to reassure Americans and our partners in NATO that President Obama is making the war on terror a priority. McChrystal has presented his request for a buildup in troops and Gates is stalling on behalf of Obama. The request is the product of the ordered review Gates issued to McChrystal in June.
From the report: "Success is achievable, but it will not be attained simply by trying harder or "doubling down" on the previous strategy. Additional resources are required, but focusing on force or resource requirements misses the point entirely. The key take away from this assessment is the urgent need for a significant change to our strategy and the way we think and operate. Our strategy cannot be focused on seizing terrain or destroying insurgent forces; our objective must be the population. In the struggle to gain the support of the people, every action we take must enable this effort."
This is the dire part: "Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near term (next 12 months) -- while Afghan security capacity matures -- risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible."
The president has stated he intends to kick the decision down the road for several weeks. He appears to be in no rush to hash it all out. It appears he is looking for a semi-graceful way in which to deny McChrystal the additional support.
Let's keep in mind that Obama replaced the commander in place with McChrystal - touted as Obama's personal pick. McChrystal is a protege of General Petraeus. That means he is planning to use the Iraq strategy of counter-terrorism on the ground. That strategy turned around the war in Iraq and may well in Afghanistan. Obama is nervous that the Petraeus strategy will lead to long term commitment and it will look bad for him.
Vice-President Biden, consistently on the wrong side of history in America's foreign policy, is said to be pushing the idea of withdrawing troops while increasing the use of technology, such as the unmanned drone attacks. He forgets that Rumsfield also tried the high tech approach instead of boots on the ground in Iraq without success. The Powell Doctrine of overwhelming the enemy still works best.
An encouraging statement from Gates came this weekend, too. He said in a televised interview, "The notion of timelines and exit strategies and so on, frankly, I think would all be a strategic mistake. The reality is, failure in Afghanistan would be a huge setback for the United States." The usual groups on the left side of the political aisle are demanding an exit from Afghanistan. It is interesting to note that there does not seem to be the media hysteria over no exit strategy from this war as there was over the perceived lack of exit plan from Iraq during the Bush administration. Gates noted an early withdrawal would be perceived as failure, just as it was for the Soviet Union in 1989, after 10 years of battle.
On the campaign trail, Obama loved to boast that he was anti-war in Iraq from the beginning. He was a state senator in Illinois when the war began so he wasn't a part of the process in Washington. He declared the war in Afghanistan the "good war", the war we must win. The war that Bush abandoned unfinished. He didn't bother to note that victory was swift when we entered there after 9/11/01. The problems developed with the lack of continued resources and moving the focus onto Iraq.
Now, suddenly Obama notices that the government in Afghanistan is corrupted. This is nothing new to anyone. Obama is using it as an excuse to vote "present" for now. With troops on the ground and increasing attacks, this is not a strong leadership move.