Thursday, June 24, 2010

Going forward from here

I was sorry that General McChrystal had to go. I didn't think it was necessary, but it was within President Obama's prerogative to make that call and, at least, with appointing General Petraeus, the President has signaled that he's carrying forward with McChrystal's strategy. However, the President needs to make clear that he fully supports that strategy in all its aspects. The WSJ has some very good recommendations of what Obama now should do. First of all, he needs to clarify if his date of July 2011 is a deadline or not. There is confusion emanating from his administration and that is not acceptable.
The larger questions now are whether the President can exert as much policy discipline over his civilian subordinates as he has on the military—and whether he's willing to make a political investment in the war commensurate with the military sacrifice.

Mr. Obama seemed to acknowledge the first point in his remarks yesterday, saying that he had warned his national security team that, when it comes to war strategy, "I won't tolerate division." We hope that message got through to Vice President Joe Biden, whose opposition to the strategy has been leaked around the world and back, and who was recently quoted by Newsweek's Jonathan Alter as saying that "in July 2011, you're going to see a whole lot of people moving out [of Afghanistan], bet on it."

Defense Secretary Robert Gates flatly contradicted the Veep on Fox News Sunday, insisting "that absolutely has not been decided," and that the July 2011 date was only a "starting point" for withdrawal, contingent on local conditions.

The President ought to put this debate to rest, rather than trying to appease his liberal base by promising withdrawal while winking and nodding to our partners in Afghanistan that the deadline is effectively meaningless.

So far, his ambiguity has fueled the very infighting that led to General McChrystal's dismissal, persuaded our NATO partners to prepare their own exit strategies, and convinced Afghan President Hamid Karzai that he can't count on America's long-term support. The damage isn't merely the deadline but the sense projected by Mr. Biden that the U.S. will leave the Afghans in the lurch again, much as we did at the end of the Cold War.
Such ambiguity is unacceptable when we have our troops fighting and dying and are asking Afghan villagers to risk their family's lives by throwing in with us.

In addition, there is no benefit in having a divided civilian group over there in Afghanistan who are undercutting our mission there.
The President could help on this score by deploying a civilian team to Afghanistan that gets along with their U.S. military counterparts and Afghanistan's leaders. We like Senator John McCain's suggestion to replace U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry—whose relationship with Mr. Karzai is as poisonous as his dealings were with General McChrystal—with former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker. Mr. Crocker, who also previously served as a highly effective U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, understands there is no diplomatic mileage to be gained by undercutting the very government the U.S. is seeking to shore up.
And the President needs to devote a fraction of his public attention and supposed sales abilities to the war in Afghanistan as he does to his domestic priorities.
Above all, Mr. Obama has to give General Petraeus more political backing and personal attention to the war than he has so far provided. It's remarkable that it took the firing of General McChrystal to hear again from Mr. Obama, for the first time in months, why he is committed to the war. Mr. Obama said yesterday that no one individual is indispensable in war, but if any single person is, it is a President. Mr. Obama too often gives the impression of a leader asking, "Won't someone rid me of this damn war?"

In choosing to throw a Hail Mary pass to General Petraeus, the President has chosen a commander who understands counterinsurgency, who helped to design the current Afghan strategy, and who knows how to lead and motivate soldiers. He—and they—need a Commander in Chief willing to show equal commitment and staying power.
Victor Davis Hanson notes the irony of Obama having to go to the general he spent his time as senator chastising for the surge in Iraq strategy.
A final note: It is one of ironies of our present warped climate that Petraeus will face far less criticism from the media and politicians than during 2007–8 (there will be no more “General Betray Us” ads or “suspension of disbelief” ridicule), because his success this time will reflect well on Obama rather than George Bush. It is a further irony that Obama is surging with Petraeus despite not long ago declaring that such a strategy and such a commander were failures in Iraq. And it is an even further irony that he is now rightly calling for “common purpose” when — again not long ago, at a critical juncture in Iraq — Obama himself, for partisan purposes on the campaign trail, had no interest in the common purpose of military success in Iraq.


tfhr said...

It's going to be interesting to see the Congressional hearings that this change of command will precipitate.

Besides the need to swap out the diplomatic component, it will also be interesting to see who takes command of CENTCOM. My guess is that Petraeus won't miss that job but it is still very important that the right commander replaces him in Tampa. If that replacement is not Army or Marine Corps, that fill will leave a lot of people scratching their heads.

tfhr said...

While GEN Petraeus is a good choice for the task at hand, unless the diplomatic team is swapped out and the artificial (2012 election driven) draw-down date is changed or eliminated, the change in the military component leadership just won't make enough of a difference.

My worry is that those two things will not change or change enough and that the removal of McChrystal will be the blanket excuse used by this administration and its supporters for its failure to execute the war.

Bachbone said...

After selecting Gen. Petraeus, when leftists called him every scurrilous name known as he testified before Congress several years ago, BHO will henceforth and evermore stand for "Biggest Hypocrite Obama."

"Bite Me" Biden and St. Hillary once publicly called Gen. Petraeus a liar, though they didn't have the guts to use the actual word "liar." Obama stated during a news conference that (paraphrasing) not a single military person he'd spoken with had said 15,000 or even 30,000 more troops would improve the situation in Afghanistan. Obama has no intention of "winning" in Afghanistan, no matter who is in charge militarily. But Afghanistan's leadership, which Obama tried to get rid of during its last election, and our military leaders will be used as scapegoats for Obama's doltish orders.

tfhr said...


True, in so far as we've seen from him to this point. He will lose in Afghanistan if he does not completely support Petraeus.

The thing that set George W. Bush apart from the class of Presidents that concern themselves with polling and public opinion first is that he backed Petraeus and "The Surge" in the face of "conventional wisdom". Leaders have a knack for that sort of thing and to no surprise, Obama has failed to demonstrate that so far.