The WSJ has an Op-Ed today from Kori Schake, which manages to be both enlightening and annoying at the same time. Ms. Schake, as the headline indicates, thinks President Obama should either “commit to Afghanistan or get out…We shouldn’t send Americans to fight or die if we’re not in it to win it.”
This a fairly sensible suggestion. No point in doing much in life that’s half assed. Though I would answer with my own question: what do we mean by winning, exactly? Does “win” mean making Afghanistan as stable as Pakistan? Hmmm…
Mr. Obama owns the war in Afghanistan. He bought it, on credit. But he is fulminating at the cost now that the bill is coming due. Gen. Stanley McChrystal has made clear what the bill will be in terms of additional troops. And the president now wants a review to determine whether we’re pursuing the right strategy.
It is disappointing that this review comes after the president decided to keep 68,000 Americans risking their lives in Afghanistan. But Mr. Obama is right to give himself a chance to decide whether he is willing to follow through on this war, given what it will cost in blood, treasure, and other things.
Again, hard to argue. I’m a bit disappointed with Obama for the review, too. But for different reasons.
Obama should have been asking these very difficult questions earlier in the year, before he decided to increase the troops levels the first time, bringing us up to 68,000. (Because it’s been clear to anyone who has paid attention to Afghanistan over the past year that the military commanders wanted more than 17,ooo extra troops.) His public comments indicated that he was willing to fight this “war of necessitty” with guns blazing, so it’s no surprise McChrystal et al. had high expectations that their needs would be fulfilled.
The White House has been arguing that the controversial election in August gave them second thoughts. If this is the case, then we should all be a little concerned. It means, for however briefly, they had entered Bush-like delusion land. That a ballot box and a purple finger would be the game changer.
Did Obama’s brain trust really expect Afghan elections to be a clean and fair deal? Seriously? Is naivete a job requirement for foreign policy gigs in the White House?
Anyway, Ms. Schake takes up the rest of the Op-Ed saying that the civilians haven’t been doing their part, the State Department isn’t stepping up to the plate, and the military’s been carrying all the burden, etc. (Maybe because, as Stephen Glain reports, the Pentagon basically runs our foreign policy: “[SecDef Gates] has wryly pointed out how, given the Defense Department’s $664 billion budget compared with the State Department’s $52 billion annual outlay, Washington employs more military band members than it does foreign service officers.”)
But, I do concur with the larger sentiment of the piece: while we debate the finer points of policy, American soldiers and Afghans are dying. That’s not theoretical, and it should help us make up our minds.
BONUS POLITICAL ANALYIS: Even if there is something called a “win” in Afghanistan, politically, it doesn’t help Obama much. Iraq showed us this. (John McCain’s support of the surge didn’t mean jack, in the end.) If the war in Afghanistan starts to go well, folks in America will stop paying attention to it. It’s only when the wars are noticeably going bad that they become a viable political issue.
Why has the public recently soured on the war? After the first troop increase, the operation in Helmand, the elections, the deadly month of August, people have been forced to look at it. The Af/Pak war had been going bad for about four years straight and no one cared until last month! Why? ‘Cause Americans started to die. Increase the troops, at least in the short run, you’re going to have a lot more months like August. People won’t like that. And then if things actually do stabilize to the point where we forget the war is going on in a year or two or four, uh, well, we’ll have forgetten the war is going on… The public is tired of these wars–and barring a terrorist attack in the U.S., there won’t be a war fever bounce in the polls. So Obama could eventually try to take credit for “stabilizing Afghanistan”, but they’ll be other, more pressing issues that the folks will be voting on and talking about. (How’s healthcare going, btw?)