This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which Al Qaida would plot to kill more Americans. So this is not only a war worth fighting; this is fundamental to the defense of our people.
President Obama - 8/17/2009
If this is true, why is President Obama hesitating to act on the recommendations of Generals Petraeus and McChrystal to add at least 40,000 troops to the fight? Has the situation changed so dramatically in less than three months? Or is not offending the antiwar left so important that it overrides taking action that "is fundamental to the defense of our people?" Maybe Obama's considering the suggestion of Sun Tzu scholar Joe Biden to wage the war from a distance, with warships a thousand miles away. Fight it using a counter-terrorist approach. The world's foremost counter-terrorist expert, McChrystal, says that won't work. He agrees with the world's foremost counter-insurgency expert, Petraeus, that a similar strategy to the one employed in Iraq has the best chance of success.
This is an important decision and shouldn't be rushed but the generals made their recommendations months ago. And the administration has been deliberating far longer. General McChrystal was given his assignment back in June replacing General David McKiernan as head of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The Petraeus / McChrystal strategy had been formulated by mid-August.
And this is what National Security Advisor, James Jones said in March, 2009,
...the President announced a comprehensive new strategy for Afghanistan and for Pakistan and, indeed, for the region that is the culmination of a careful 60-day interagency strategic review. During this process, we consulted with not only Afghan authorities and Pakistani authorities – governments, partners, and NATO allies and other donors and international organizations and, of course, here at home, members of Congress.
After a "careful 60-day ineragency review," a strategic decision was made, eight months ago.
But a comprehensive review was available even before then. Stephen Hayes* of the Weekly Standard makes note of this statement by WH Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel on October 18, attempting to explain the delay in making a decision.
The president is asking the questions that have never been asked on the civilian side, the political side, the military side, and the strategic side. What is the impact on the region? What can the Afghan government do or not do? Where are we on the police training? Who would be better doing the police training? Could that be something the Europeans do? Should we take the military side? Those are the questions that have not been asked. And before you commit troops . . . before you make that decision, there's a set of questions that have to have answers that have never been asked. And it's clear after eight years of war, that's basically starting from the beginning, and those questions never got asked.
But Hayes reports that those questions had been asked and answered.
From mid-September to mid-November 2008, a National Security Council team, under the direction of General Doug Lute, conducted an exhaustive review of Afghanistan policy. The interagency group included high-ranking officials from the State Department, the National Security Council, the CIA, the office of the director of national intelligence, the office of the vice president, the Pentagon, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Its objective was to assess U.S. -policy on Afghanistan, integrating a simultaneous military review being conducted by CENTCOM, so as to present President Bush with a series of recommendations on how best to turn around the deteriorating situation there.
The Lute review asked many questions and provided exhaustive answers not only to President Bush, but also to the Obama transition team before the inauguration. "General Jones was briefed on the results of the Lute review, and that review answered many of the questions that Rahm Emanuel says were never asked," says Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley. Jones and Hadley discussed the review, and Lute gave Jones a detailed PowerPoint presentation on his findings. Among the recommendations: a civilian surge of diplomats and other non-military personnel to the country, expedited training for the Afghan National Army, a strong emphasis on governance and credible elections, and, most important, a fully resourced counterinsurgency strategy.
Jones asked Hadley not to release the results of the Lute review so that his boss would have more flexibility when it came time to provide direction for the U.S. presence in Afghanistan. Bush officials reasoned that Obama was more likely to heed their advice if he could simply adopt their recommendations without having to acknowledge that they came from the Bush White House. So Hadley agreed.
So, Emanuel's explanation was a lie, and a year ago, even before he took office, Obama had at his disposal a comprehensive report on the situation in Afghanistan.
Obama's dithering is damaging our prospects as military experts, Frederick and Kimberly Kagan, the pair that had much to do with the planning and success of the Iraq surge, point out.
General Stanley McChrystal's assessment and force-requirement studies were largely complete by the beginning of August. The White House has stated that the president will not be announcing a decision until the end of November at the earliest. White House officials claim that the delay does not affect the movement of U.S. forces or our prospects for military success next year. These claims are inaccurate. The delay in White House decision-making is protracting and complicating the campaign in Afghanistan and has reduced General McChrystal's ability to prepare for and conduct decisive operations next year.
When McChrystal took command of the Afghan war in June, the White House made it clear that he was expected to make dramatic progress within a year--by the summer of 2010. McChrystal worked quickly both to understand the situation and to develop an appropriate course of action that would meet the goals of the White House strategy. His concept of operations aimed to reverse the enemy's momentum and address important problems in Afghan governance. At the same time, he oversaw the establishment of a new three-star headquarters, the deployment of the last of the additional forces his predecessor had requested for election security, the securing of the elections themselves, and major operations in Helmand and elsewhere. He also made the painful decision to pull U.S. forces back from isolated outposts that required too much manpower and were in danger of being overrun. He sought to create conditions for decisive operations in time to meet the expectations of the White House. He was supported in that effort by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen and by CENTCOM Commander General David Petraeus.
The White House has not done its part to allow General McChrystal to meet its own deadline. It was slow to receive and act on the assessment he sent, and it deliberately refused even to review his force recommendations for weeks after they were complete. In the intervening months the White House has held a series of seminars on Afghanistan and the region that should have been conducted before the new strategy was announced in March.
If the White House had immediately received and acted on General McChrystal's recommendations--which were specifically tailored to meet the objectives described in the president's March 27 speech--the following critical initiatives could already be underway:
* Expanding the Afghan National Security Forces as rapidly as possible toward the goal of 400,000 total, a figure agreed-upon by the Afghan Ministers of Defense and Interior and by the U.S. military's own reviews;
* Preparing infrastructure within Afghanistan and the region to accommodate a large and rapid surge of U.S. forces;
* Sending more forces immediately to support ongoing operations in Helmand;
* Issuing orders to deploy all of the forces McChrystal requested as rapidly as possible.
The White House could have begun all of those initiatives and still conducted a thoughtful review over the ensuing weeks.
Last month, even liberal Senator Dianne Feinstein urged Obama to get cracking.
I don’t know how you put somebody in, who is as 'cracker jack' as General McChrystal who gives the president very solid recommendations and not take those recommendations if you are not going to pull out. If you do not want to take the recommendations then you put your people in such jeopardy.
But instead we get this from the AP,
WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama does not plan to accept any of the Afghanistan war options presented by his national security team, pushing instead for revisions to clarify how and when U.S. troops would turn over responsibility to the Afghan government, a senior administration official said Wednesday.
More than anything else, Obama's indecision over such a critical issue - one with much more urgency than health care reform, or cap and tax - shows that he isn't up to the job.
*Steve Hayes is a very impressive writer and commentator. His area of expertise is in national security and war policy but on the Fox News panel he's also spoken articulately and intelligently on the economy and issues like health care.