June 30, 2009

Repeating Mistakes?

Here's Bob Woodward recounting NSA James Jones' visit to Afghanistan:

"National Security Adviser James L. Jones told U.S. military commanders here last week that the Obama administration wants to hold troop levels here flat for now, and focus instead on carrying out the previously approved strategy of increased economic development, improved governance and participation by the Afghan military and civilians in the conflict.

"The message seems designed to cap expectations that more troops might be coming, though the administration has not ruled out additional deployments in the future...Jones made it clear in his visit to Afghanistan that it is a new era and that Obama will not automatically give the military commanders whatever force levels they request -- the frequent practice of President George W. Bush in the Iraq war."

Umm...maybe I was watching the wrong war, but it seemed like there was a period between, say, 2003 and 2006 when insufficient troop levels (and the Bush administration's unwillingness to raise them) were regularly cited as a major factor in the ongoing failure to stabilize Iraq.

Snark aside, one of the lessons from Iraq has to be that the basic services, governance, and economic development lines of operation, which many U.S. commanders knew pretty well before FM 3-24 and the "Surge," weren't very sustainable until a modicum of security was established.  So if we are committed to our current strategy in Afghanistan, it seems pretty darn important that we're confident we have the force levels necessary to establish that minimum level of security.  Otherwise our "civilian surge" and reconstruction initiatives seem likely to be DOA.  That's not a call for the administration to reflexively throw in more troops without a rigorous analysis of strategic costs and benefits, but it does suggest that it needs to double-check to ensure that its ends, ways, and means in Afghanistan are are all aligned.