September 28, 2009

Afghanistan and Obama

In my opinion, Ross Douthat (with Vinegar Joe Lieberman) gets a lot right in this column. Namely:

  1. In a conversation last week, the Connecticut senator was careful to avoid taking the president to task for pausing before he escalates. After seven years of war, Lieberman noted, we’ve only now “begun the first serious national debate about Afghanistan: whether we should be there and what we should be doing there. In that regard, it’s entirely appropriate that the president is deliberating.”
  2. But if Obama takes us deeper into war out of political necessity rather than conviction, the results could be disastrous. That’s because the counterinsurgency strategy he’s contemplating is the worst possible option — except for all the others. It looks attractive only because the alternatives involve abandoning southern Afghanistan to the Taliban’s tender mercies, playing Whac-a-Mole with Al Qaeda from afar with hopelessly inadequate intelligence and pushing the nuclear-armed Pakistani military back into a marriage of necessity with a resurgent Taliban next door.
  3. “My hope,” Lieberman told me, is that once Obama finishes his “very public process of deliberation, he will have brought the public along with him” — and placed the war effort on a firmer footing in the process. But the president can only bring the country with him if he really believes in the war that he’s inherited. For now, that remains an open question. And if Obama takes us deeper into a conflict for which he doesn’t really have the stomach, then the outcome will almost certainly be tragic — for him, for us, and for Afghanistan.

It's fair to say you guys know my thoughts and my worries about this war. But while I have my own preferences on policy and strategy, the most important thing now is for the president to carefully deliberate, make an informed decision weighing the risks and chances of success of various courses of action, and to then stick to that decision with Churchillian stubbornness.


By the way, did any of you read this trash? Spencer says most of what needs to be said but not all. I'm not going to start hitting below the belt, and coming as I do from the field of strategic studies, I believe those who have never seen combat nonetheless might have a lot of intelligent things to say about conflict. But all I'm saying is that if you're going to write sentences like "Gen. Stan McChrystal conformed to the Obama Way of War by imposing rules of engagement that could have been concocted by Code Pink," you better, in light of Gen. McChrystal's own curriculum vitae, have a glittering combat resume of your own. If you have never, in fact, been to war yourself, you might want to be a bit more measured in your criticism.