September 23, 2009

Debating Afghanistan

On the one hand, I am really glad the Obama Administration is debating a wide variety of alternatives in Afghanistan. While most of us were operating under the assumption that the administration would stick to the policy it articulated in March (.pdf), and some have been understandably confused by the pause for reflection, the McChrystal report and the Afghan elections fiasco should be enough for one to take a step back and question the assumptions that informed the planning in February and March. Again, I am no strategist, but what I know about strategic planning is that you start with a list of assumptions, and should any of those assumptions turn out to be wrong at some point, you need to go back and revise your plan. 

On the other hand, both Tom Ricks and Andrew Sullivan highlighted this excerpt from a George Packer profile of Amb. Richard Holbrooke:

[Y]ou want open airing of views and opinions and suggestions upward, but once the policy's decided you want rigorous, disciplined implementation of it. And very often in the government the exact opposite happens. People sit in a room, they don't air their real differences, a false and sloppy consensus papers over those underlying differences, and they go back to their offices and continue to work at cross purposes, even actively undermining each other.

When the president decides on his strategy for Afghanistan (for real this time), he's going to make a lot of people unhappy. He might, if he decides to resource a counterinsurgency strategy and back a request for more troops, make his base and his own vice president upset. If he decides to consolidate gains in Afghanistan, downsize the footprint, and conduct a counter-terror campaign focused on Pakistan, meanwhile, he's going to make Republicans and the military leadership unhappy. The latter believe that only a properly resourced counterinsurgency strategy will succeed in Afghanistan. But their job is to give their best military advice and to then leave the political decision up to the president, who should and will weigh a number of other factors into his decision. But again, once a decision has been made, everyone -- from the vice president to the military leadership (to 31-year old counterinsurgency bloggers?) -- needs to get onboard. Despite this report from Nancy, I get the sense that the military leadership will have an easier time executing the president's policy if their advice is ignored than the vice-president will if he doesnt get his way.

As for me, I pledge to be patriotically icorrigible no matter what happens.