14 November 2009

Dithering? Depends on whom you ask...

(Excuse the before coffee post)

We're all well aware that former Vice President Cheney has accused President Obama of "dithering" on Afghanistan--taking a long time to formulate a cohesive strategy for the country. His sentiments have been echoed by Republican Congressman John Boehner, who used his time on the House floor to fling partisan attacks at President Obama, making some bizarre connection to the increase in casualties and Obama's deliberations on Afghanistan. (Nice try, but no).

So we have former VP Cheney, with a dubious grasp on American strategy on one hand, and General David H. Petraeus on the other hand, who felt that the time spent formulating an Afghanistan strategy is well spent:

In Iraq, getting the right strategy was just as important as the surge in personnel, the general said. “The real key in Iraq was the surge of ideas, not just the surge of troops,” Petraeus said. “Yes, the 30,000 additional troops that ended up being deployed during the surge enabled us to … implement time-honored counterinsurgency concepts more effectively and more rapidly than we could have.” ...

...When the Iraq and Afghan strategies were first formulated in this administration in March, he said, the process was rushed. The current process has allowed Obama to engage in forming the process in a way he did not before, the general said.

“There have been very good debates, very good discussion,” he said. “This is the kind of intellectual discourse you want. It does sharpen your thinking. It does expose differences of opinion. It helps you come to grips with the assumptions.”

The president has committed an enormous amount of time to the process, and it is an appropriate use of his time, Petraeus said. “This decision will be forthcoming pretty soon, perhaps when he comes back from the Asia trip, and then we will all press forward,” he said. “And I think we will do so with enormous benefit from having had these discussions.”

American, NATO and Afghan officials recognize the dangers of corruption in Afghanistan. Petraeus said Afghan President Hamid Karzai has to set the tone, and he looks forward to Karzai’s inaugural speech on Nov. 19.

“There are several subjects in that address that we look forward to hearing: his plans to deal with corruption, to confront the issues that have to do with legitimacy of governance and how to achieve that in the eyes of the people to be seen as serving the people,” Petraeus said. Karzai also will make a statement with the men and women he asks to be in the government, the general added.

Addendum: Joe Galloway, the reporter who covered Lt. Col. Hal Moore and the men of the 1st Cavalry Division at the Battle of Ia Drang, has this to say about the planning process.

He seemingly is unwilling to buy a pig in a poke from any of the players — not from Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, who wants another 40,000 to 80,000 American troops; not from his own national security wizards who've proffered four different pigs in four different pokes; not from Vice President Joe Biden, who wants to leave the fight to Special Forces and unmanned Predators.

The word is that none of the options contains what the president wants to see — an estimate of how many more years beyond the eight already invested would be needed and an exit strategy.


Simple question and a vital requirement: How much longer will it take, and how do we get out when that time is up?

Let's call that Military Planning 101 and, like the president, we're left to ponder why that basic first step in committing a nation and its military and its treasury to a war wasn't taken before now and was missing from all the alternatives offered at this critical junction in a war that's now in its ninth year?

The previous president's strategy was simple: Stay the course in Afghanistan, but divert the resources to Iraq.

What McChrystal and his Pentagon overlords wanted was a blank check for Afghanistan, an open-ended commitment of years, troops and money.

The military request on the table, if rubber-stamped as they'd hoped, would bring the number of American troops from today's 70,000 to well over 100,000. What experience teaches is that they'd be back next spring or summer asking for another 50,000 or 75,000. And again next fall.

When was the last time you heard a military commander ask for fewer troops and less money?

So this president is due a polite round of applause for not letting the generals stampede him into a swift, decisive and totally wrong decision to give them what they want.


Unknown said...

Ha! “A dubious grasp on American strategy,” indeed. So far as I’m concerned, Cheney is the only political luminary (using the term loosely) who has out-performed Joe Biden in being consistently wrong. 1991–over the advice of the guy on the ground who actually knew something, recommended terminating Desert Storm after 100 hours. 2003–Operation Iraqi Freedom. Need I say more? 2005–the insurgency is in its last throes. There are probably a good dozen additional examples of good ol’ Dick being not just wrong but spectacularly wrong.

On the other hand, we have Gen. Petraeus’s thoughtful comments (which, by the way, are a good response to David Kilcullen’s recent interview).

I think Joe Galloway is, perhaps, a little too rough on the generals, but overall he comes out correctly. My only disagreement with Galloway is that generals are hired to fight wars. That predisposes them to make recommendations they deem appropriate, which usually require more resources, to make the best of a bad situation. Galloway has a bit of a blind spot here as a result of the glaring incompetence he saw in Vietnam.

There’s another question, besides those mentioned by Galloway, that Obama should be asking. Even if we meet our victory conditions in the time frame that’s been agreed to and are able to withdraw in a timely fashion, what is likely to be the lasting impact of our intervention? Are we going to be able to say to those American families who send their loved ones to Afghanistan in this surge, only to have them return either broken or dead, that the sacrifice of these men and women produced a lasting result beneficial to the United States? If, in good faith, we can’t anticipate being able to say that, then maybe we ought not send them over there in the first place.

Boss Mongo said...

Let's accept everything you say as true. I think that the word "dithering" implies frittering away time. How long is appropriate? One would hope that, with the nation at war and troops in harm's way, this would be priority one. Yet we see the Commander in Chief doing a lot of things other than establishing and executing a strategy for Iraq. No one expects the C-in-C to buy a pig in a poke. But one does expect him to develop/approve a strategy, articulate the why's and wherefores to the American people, and decisively execute it.
If accusations of "dithering" had been made in March, or May, I would think them uncalled for.
It's mid-November. Clock's tickin', dude.