Afghanistan

Obama Vs. Senate Republicans on Afghanistan

Since the leaking of the McCrystal memo and the President’s professed skepticism of certain aspects of Afghanistan policy, the public has witnessed a media blitz from both sides of the aisle over troop increases in Afghanistan.  The fight continues into this week, and Senate Republicans are pushing the president to rush a decision. Here’s an interview with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) speaking to FoxNews’ Greta Van Susteren, in which Susteren digs at Obama’s deliberative pace, while Graham lays out the argument that when things aren’t going well, more troops is the answer:

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, isn’t the whole idea to be decisive. I mean, each day – I was looking at the numbers of people, and this year the numbers of American military deaths in Afghanistan is 218 so far this year, which is already 40 percent more than in 2008. So we – we need to do something.

GRAHAM: Yes, ma’am. And my view is that General McChrystal has thought of – thought well – long and hard about what that something is. The something is to regain lost ground, to take the 40,000 additional troops, deploy them in areas where the Taliban have reemerged, 1,000 percent increase in IED attacks.

We learned in Afghanistan – in Iraq, when we put more troops in, the people trusted us. They told us more about what was going on. So more combat power will win the population over to our side, and if we don’t act quickly, the casualties are going to go up. But worst of all worlds is to keep in place what we have now. It’s an unsustainable situation. It needs to change one way or the other, and I think more troops is the way it needs to change.

The Republican complaint that Obama is taking too long is typical. However, according to the profile of Richard Holbrooke in the latest New Yorker (subscription required) it was noted that Obama, shortly after the Inauguration, was given a briefing by the Joint Chiefs that listed over a dozen different military goals for Afghanistan.  The question is not one about the Obama’s inability to be a decider, but about the fundamental purpose of American presence in Afghanistan and the lack of a clear mission whatsoever.

In addition to deteriorating conditions in Afghanistan, Obama faces a divided cabinet. According to Gareth Porter of IPSnews:

Gates has remained publicly undecided on the troop increase issue. But on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday, he declared that being defeated by the Taliban in Afghanistan would have “catastrophic effects”, by “energising” al Qaeda recruitment, operations and fundraising.

Gates, Clinton and Holbrooke are likely to press Obama to go along with at least a large part of the McChrystal troop request, arguing that the war cannot be abandoned. They will argue that the Obama’s presidency cannot survive an open breach with the military, and that Republican senators are already poised to attack Obama as weak if he fails to provide whatever McChrystal requests.

Obama could still argue that conditions in Afghanistan have changed, and that U.S. objectives there must now be adjusted. But he would have to do battle with his military leadership, the Republicans and his own national security advisers.

The high political price that the forces arrayed behind the war in Afghanistan are prepared to exact on Obama for reining in the present war may compel him to compromise with them once again.

All the while, public opinion on Afghanistan is souring across the nation, that is unless you’re Republican.   Below is the findings of this week’s Gallup Poll concerning party loyalty and Afghanistan:

Gallup Opinion Graphic

The “good and necessary” war in Afghanistan is being questioned from without and within at this critical juncture. The arguments put forth by hawks and military brass are still getting far more air time than the peaceful, pragmatic alternatives. Help us push the debate towards a new, smarter approach here.

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