28 October 2009

“McChrystal for the city, Biden for the country”

A great article today in the NY Times lays out the initial framework for what appears to be a middle-ground plan in Afghanistan. It appears that Obama is seeking some sort of compromise between a full-on surge/escalation and a withdrawal to a CT-only strategy.

The plan will focus on securing 10 key population centers, with additional BCTs being distributed in line with these priorities: 2x RC-South (1 to Kandahar and 1 unknown – probably to Helmand); 1x RC-East; 1x flex-reserve to “surge” (similar to what 3/2 Stryker did in Iraq). This strategy echoes the Iraq surge in its decision to accept risk in many part of the country and focus troops in key urban-population centers (Baghdad in the case of Iraq in ’07). The major differences of course are: 1) The soldier:population ratio in Afghanistan will be much lower than in Iraq due to the larger size of Afghanistan; 2) Many argue that the other conditions that enabled the success of the surge in Iraq (i.e. Sunni Awakening movement and Sadr’s JAM stand-down) are not present in Afghanistan.

Along these lines, Tom Friedman (who always offers a great big-picture, long-term perspective) puts the decision to send additional troops into the context of the US national interest in his NY Times op-ed today. Is McChrystal just asking us to reinforce failure in Afghanistan?

It appears that Matthew Hoh (who recently resigned as the State Department’s top civilian in Zabul province) thinks so. In his must-read letter of resignation, he argues that, “Success and victory [in Afghanistan]…will be realized not in years, after billions more spent, but in decades and generations. The United States does not enjoy a national treasury for such success and victory.”

Obama is expected to formally announce his strategy between the Nov 7 presidential election run-off and a planned trip to Japan on Nov 11. Time is running out to make a decision. Where do you weigh in?


  1. "Time is running out to make a decision" depends on which clock you are watching and which ones you think matter. The military is, as it should be, impatient for a decision, as is the American public. The artificial pressure of the 24-hour news cycle, however, is also easily distracted, like the American electorate that will not actually punish the President (i.e. at the polling places across the US) so long as they are not suffering in any way because of the war in Afghanistan. Taxes have not gone up, and even the "spike" in casualties is miniscule for an average American with little connection to the war. Once the decision is announced, everyone will quickly forget how long Obama "dithered" in this decision, so getting it right is likely worth the political pressure in the very short term.

  2. Captain Hyphen: I agree with you completely. I wasn't trying to imply that Obama should rush this decision. Just the opposite, I think the stories recently published that discuss an in-depth MDMP-like process going on at the Pentagon is critical. Then, the President must take these various COAs (each with associated risk) and put them in the context of the broader national interest. That's the tough part...I would guess there are some sleepless nights at the White House lately.

    By saying that "time is running out," I was trying to inspire fellow blog readers and posters to weigh in with their input and ideas. Thanks for weighing in with yours!

  3. For once I find myself agreeing with Friedman. Post "Beirut to Jerusalem," I am of the opinion that he is best at inventing and flogging quotes rather than any in-depth analysis. But that's neither here nor there...

    Two points, first, looking back to both late '01 and into '02, our policy of tribal engagement seemed to have born fruit. That, and our PGMs. Where is tribal engagement in the new plan(s)?

    Second, I don't see a problem with the President carrying out a thorough review before making such a momentous decision. I do have a problem with this process being played out on the front page of the Post, up to and including the length of each meeting. Better were the reviews carried out discreetly, then announced along with the commander charged with carrying out said strategic plans.

    Eric R.