Thursday, December 03, 2009

It's Now Obama’s War

Having suggested, with some sarcasm, that the President should make a decision on Afghanistan strategy, I am pleased to note that he has made a decision.

I listened last night on the radio to President Obama’s speech at West Point on our future course in Afghanistan . It came off with his usual excellent presentation, certainly it sounded better than the descriptions of many who saw in on television. The speech had all the right phrasing, aimed at middle of the political spectrum and full of phrases that with high emotional value to the center and right. These would have been more convincing if they were at least not inconsistent with the past perceptions of his personal philosophy.

Obama supporter Charli Carpenter at the Duck of Minerva “But I have some critical reactions too.” and Obama critic Elizabeth Scalia, the Anchoress at First Things “The president is doing the right thing, and he deserves props for it” provide very different but worth while commentary and limited round ups.

His presentation of the conflict’s background was reasonably good, though the nit pickers will have enough material to make them happy. He had the expected up and down playing of things that make the his administration look better and the Bush Administration look bad.

He is going to send thirty thousand of the forty thousand troops that General McChrystal requested, he expects to bring them and most of our troops home in eighteen months, a renewed emphasis on training the Afgan security forces, encouraging reforms in the Afghan Government. The emphasis was on battling al Qaeda, with only passing mention of the Taliban. And no “Blank Checks.”

From a domestic political point of view the eighteen months puts future decisions safely after the 2010 election but well before the 2012 election and is olive branch to his political base who wants a quick withdrawal.

The increase in troops is perquisite for any action if we are going to stay, though I think ultimately the total of the increase will be nearer eighty thousand rather than the forty thousand that was requested. Thirty thousand, in addition to giving the appearance that he is not just rubber stamping General McChrystal’s request, is probably near the maximum that can be deployed in the timeframe he gave, but “unnamed administration sources” are reporting that the amount could be increased. Unless the President has placed unreasonable restrictions on their use, this gives the flexibility General McCrystal needs to respond to and create events.

The primary action will be against the Taliban, while destroying al Qaeda was the reason we went there and is still a leading goal, the road to al Qaeda goes through the Taliban, we need to fight the Taliban to maintain the bases to attack al Qaeda, and in going into Afghanistan we assumed some responsibility for leaving the place better off than we found it, which requires defeating the Taliban. The essential “win the people” part of the insurgency campaign requires that we are in control of the places where the people live and can defend them.

Training and building the Afghan security forces to take over in eighteen months is not going to happen. From the time the US recruits 400 new soldiers, combines them with a cadre of experienced soldiers and graduates an infantry battalion out of the Nation Training Center is nine months. This is in ideal situations with recruits who have the educational background, and already having the experienced soldiers to form the cadre. Building effective security forces is essential, we are having some success but it will take a lot longer than eighteen months. The battalion that starts training today will in two or three years provide cadres for two or three battalions which in two or three more years will provide the cadre for more. That is a little pessimistic, there is some good cadre potential in the Afghanistan Army and not all the security forces need to be fully trained infantrymen, but eighteen months is not enough even if every thing goes well.

The reforms the in Afghan society the President is calling for are going to be as much or more dependent on military success as a perquisite. It will have to be a slow and steady pressure to reform, but pushing to hard and fast and without ensuring the security for them to remain in place will be coounter productive.

Field Marshal helmuth von Moltke (the Elder), said "No battle plan survives contact with the enemy." This plan will survive a little longer than the arrival of the troops, but it places the required resources on the ground - so the actual situation as it develops can be dealt with and also gives us the ability to create the satutation on the ground. Whether he realize it or not, the President has signed a blank check.

My Afghanistan topic.

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