Tag Archives: Gen. Stanley McChrystal

Are Afghanistan Leaks on Purpose?

President Barack Obama has been given, if published reports are true, four ways forward to deal with his most vexing foreign policy problem, Afghanistan. He’s chosen none, not even the one most thought he would, a surge of about 40,000 new troops. That’s the one promoted by the chief military commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal. We know this because his recommendation was leaked to the Washington Post.

Now comes word that the US ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, has a different view.

Karl Eikenberry
Karl Eikenberry

He’s nervous about sending thousands of US troops into harm’s way on behalf of a government many see as hopelessly corrupt and marginally competent. That would be the administration of Hamid Karzai, who will be inaugurated for a second term shortly. Of course, we know this because two cables from Ambassador Eikenberry to President Obama were leaked to (guess who?) the Washington Post.

At the root of all this is Karzai’s reported anger at US pressure to acknowledge his first round majority in the last election was fraudulent. Now that Eikenberry’s sentiments have been made public, expect the Afghan president’s position to harden as well. This begs the question, however, who’s doing all this leaking? Trying to figure this out had become a parlor game in DC. In the case of Gen. McChrystal, speculation centered on hawks in the Pentagon.

If President Obama was to make good on his pledge to follow the dictates of the military on the ground, leaking McChrystal’s report made perfect sense. But who leaked the Eikenberry cables, which some now say may have played a role in Obama’s decision not to accept any of the four options he was given? There’s been some speculation the leak may have come directly from the White House, from the President’s inner circle. That would be without the President’s knowledge, I think. It’s happened before, in the recent past.

On Thursday President Obama told soldiers at an Alaskan Air Force base that any troops sent in harms way will have a clear strategy and mission. But there’s still the thorny question of mission and strategy in Afghanistan. There seems to be a consensus that simply bringing the troops home is not an option. That, the thinking goes, would leave Karzai’s ill equipped military to the tender mercies of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. It might also create huge problems for Afghanistan’s neighbor and nominal US ally Pakistan. Yet there is still that desire to end US involvement in this almost nine year conflict, and bring the country’s fighting men and women home. That’s what a growing number of Americans want.

That would mean admitting there is no clear and definable mission for the US in Afghanistan. It would also be a political firestorm for President Obama. But in the end it would save American lives, lives that could well be lost in pursuit of an unattainable goal.

What to do about Afghanistan? That’s way above my pay grade. And what about the leaks? You tell me.

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Is Time Running Out in Afghanistan?

President Barack Obama met with about 30 members of Congress Tuesday. The subject was what to do in Afghanistan, something we’ve written about more than once.

In recent weeks, those fighting US troops in remote regions of the country have become more emboldened, and that means more US troops are dying. That in turn ratchets up pressure on the President to do something to turn the tide of this unpopular war. Ironically, Afghanistan was at first the war we were “supposed to fight”. That’s where Osama bin Laden was finding safe haven, and the public found that chase worth pursuing even as support for the war in Iraq waned.

Now, President Obama must decide whether to anger lawmakers in his own party, many of whom don’t want to see an increase in troop deployment, as top NATO and US troop commander Stanley McChrystal favors. For some, there are the twin issues of money and time. Consider this from Sen. John Kerry, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who attended Tuesday’s meeting. “I think a lot of senators and congressmen need to ask themselves how much money they are willing to put on the table for how long and for what strategy”.

Long story short, that means if President Obama follows Gen. McChrystal’s strategy, he will have the backing of Republicans, not a critical mass of Democrats. He’s taken off the table, for now, the idea of reducing troop strength. The question is whether he wants to commit to the kind of mini nation building necessary to stabilize Afghanistan’s government. That component turned out to be a disaster in Iraq, and there are no guarantees it will work any better in Afghanistan.

Make no mistake. This is the most important foreign policy decision President Obama will make during this, the early part of his tenure. Get it wrong, and he’ll be hammered not only by Republicans, but by his base as well. Americans seem to be getting tired of war, in particular wars that seem to be going on forever with little chance of clear cut victory. Without public support, the Congress won’t back an expansion of the war on the ground. If President Obama chooses to follow the recommendations of the military, he’s risking a serious political setback, as serious as not getting healthcare reform done.

I wish there was a way for the US to declare victory and simply leave Afghanistan to its people. American lives are being lost, and that ought to be our primary concern. Sadly, he political will likely trump the moral, and the US will be in Afghanistan for a long time to come.

What do you think? Should President Obama increase troop strength in Afghanistan, keep it at current levels, or start a staged withdrawal?

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US Troops. Obama Rethinking Afghanistan Strategy?

A couple of weeks ago, we wrote an item about the question of whether more troops would be sent to Afghanistan. At the time, it looked like the answer would be yes. At least, that’s the signal the Obama Administration was sending at the time. That was then. Now, it’s starting to look like the President is taking, how best to say it, a more nuanced approach.

The request from the top US and NATO commander in the country, Gen. Stanley McChrystal is clear, according to the Washington Post. The paper reports on a 66 page secret document they’ve seen, and in it McChrystal says, “Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) — while Afghan security capacity matures — risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible.” That’s pretty clear, and pretty emphatic.

The White House now seems to be singing a slightly different tune. Senior administration officials tell the Post that McChrystal’s assessment is one of a number they’re taking into account. Could one be George Will’s recent “Get out now” column in the same Washington Post? No matter. During his Sunday talk show blitz, President Obama indicated McChrystal may not get what he wants.

“Until I’m satisfied that we’ve got the right strategy, I’m not going to be sending some young man or woman over there — beyond what we already have,” Obama said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” If an expanded counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan contributes to the goal of defeating al-Qaeda, then we’ll move forward,” he said. “But, if it doesn’t, then I’m not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan or saving face or . . sending a message that America is here for the duration.”

If I were Stanley McChrystal, I might not be holding my breath waiting for those fresh troops. He probably isn’t seeing the opinion polls that say most Americans are tired of Afghanistan. The recent elections remain a subject of bitter dispute, the Karzai government doesn’t control much of the country, and a real breakthrough in the fight against the Taliban and a return of Al-Qaeda seems far off.

Will the American people support a US led nation building effort in Afghanistan? Can McChrystal’s plans for a counterinsurgency campaign be put in place fast enough to beat back a resurgent Taliban? What seemed so sure back in March when the President endorsed “executing and resourcing an integrated civilian-military counterinsurgency strategy,” no longer seems so sure.

One thing is sure. President Obama doesn’t want to repeat the mistakes the Bush Administration made in Iraq. So what should he do? You tell me.

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