Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Commander in Chief and Afghanistan

I will be the first to admit to some prejudices about the political nature of war and the need for both a thoughtful strategy and civilian control of the military. I often quote Clausewitz' rhetorical remark about war being politics carried out by other means. However, the President, as Commander in Chief, is playing a dangerous game in Afghanistan. To set the stage let me quote what the President said in March (only six months ago):

So let me be clear: al Qaeda and its allies – the terrorists who planned and supported the 9/11 attacks – are in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Multiple intelligence estimates have warned that al Qaeda is actively planning attacks on the U.S. homeland from its safe-haven in Pakistan. And if the Afghan government falls to the Taliban – or allows al Qaeda to go unchallenged – that country will again be a base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as they possibly can.

The President was correct. Meanwhile, the situation on the ground has worsened, but not yet deteriorated, contrary to what the NYT is reporting. General McChrystal is asking for more troops to prevent Afghanistan reaching a tipping point, where the war can not be won without huge expenditure of blood and treasure. Sound familiar? Indeed, it was allowing the situation in Iraq get to a dangerous tipping point, starting with a failure to control the looting after the initial defeat of the Hussein regime that caused that effort to drag on and cost

But the President and his defenders are now whining that he needs time to re-think the strategy. But I ask, what has changed strategically since March, for crying out loud? The only difference is that we underestimated the troop level needed to carry the fight to the enemy. How in the world does that change the geopolitical nature of the threat that Obama so clearly spelled out in March? The fact that the elections appear tainted changes nothing in the assessment. (I mention this because it is the only semi-plausible argument in an entire NY Times article on the President's decision making process. Note the prominence given to Joe Biden's strategic thinking as well.)

The President is supposed to LEAD! By dithering and hand wringing, poll watching and whining that he needs more time, he demoralizes the troops in the field and strengthens the position of the Taliban. Our Islamofascist enemies read the news just as much as we do. They are probably using Obama's lack of decision to rally their troops, telling them that an extra push now could achieve victory. That might be correct.

History is full of examples where insurgencies won by outlasting a larger more well equipped forces, starting with our own American Revolution. In some cases, perhaps, it is not in the long term best interests of the more powerful nation to stay in the fight. Some argue that Vietnam is one such example. I do not necessarily agree, but if Democrats and Republicans alike take the President at his word about the consequences of failure in Afghanistan, then he should have sent more troops yesterday.

Did you guys hear the one about Obama concentrating on al Qaeda instead of the Taliban?


  1. B-Daddy, great post. Link forthcoming.

    What is baffling about this (among the many things) is that not only is McChrystal considered one of our best generals... he is Obama's guy for cryin' out loud.

    Did not Obama consider he was picking a war fighter whose objective was to win when he made the selection?

  2. The guy has never led anything. Since becoming President, he still hasn't led anything. He outsourced all legislation leadership to the Congress. All he wants to do is run around and make speeches. Afghanistan is finally providing the stopper to this nonsense. He has to make a decision. Not making a decision is still making a decision as he is allowing the situation on the ground to get worse and worse. In effect, he has said, "No" to General McChrystal up to this point.

    I can easily come up with the spin his administration will use should we finally have to bail out, but the implications of the mechanics of this are clear - he does not know how to make a decision and take action.

  3. KT,
    Thanks, I wholeheartedly agree. We have elected someone who is unprepared for this high office. I think you linked to VDH's post about Obama thinking he has been elected University President, not POTUS.

    The Times story is interesting, since it is based on either 1) a dozen or more separate leaks from pretty much every member of Obama's security team and others, or 2) a comprehensive leak from someone in the White House who, in effect, wanted to plant a story in the newspaper.