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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Afghanistan and the "Decision"

Those who follow this blog know, or I hope they know, that my concern about Afghanistan is if we will stick it out.  I have been banging on about Congress. Now comes Columnist David Brooks, of The New York Times and he is talking about President Obama and "The Tenacity Question."

Here is someone else's summation of the article:
The experts thought Obama was conducting an "intelligent policy review," but had three concerns about the president himself.

First, the wonder if the president "possesses tenacity, the ability to fixate on a simple conviction and grip it, viscerally and unflinchingly, through complexity and confusion. They do not know if he possesses the obstinacy that guided Lincoln and Churchill, and which must guide all war presidents to some degree.

Second, "they do not know if President Obama regards Afghanistan as a distraction from the matters he really cares about: health care, energy and education. Some of them suspect that Obama talked himself into supporting the Afghan effort so he could sound hawkish during the campaign. They suspect he is making a show of commitment now so he can let the matter drop at a politically opportune moment down the road."

Third, "they do not understand the president's fundamental read on the situation. Most of them, like most people who have spent a lot of time in Afghanistan, believe this war is winnable. They do not think it will be easy or quick. But they do have a bedrock conviction that the Taliban can be stymied and that the governments in Afghanistan and Pakistan can be strengthened. But they do not know if Obama shares this gut conviction or possesses any gut conviction on this subject at all."
And the most important of these is the first.  Sometimes in a fight it is just being willing to stand there and take it until the other side backs down.

But, there is tenacity and there is stupidity.  On the Western Front in the First World War tenacity turned to stupidity and millions died.  On the other hand, in the Second World War, between the Battle of France (lost) and the Battle of Britain (won) tenacity guided the British to the right decision and the Germans didn't get to fully implement Generalplan Ost and kill or exile 42 million people to build a Greater Germany.

Let us not be rushing the President to a decision.  He needs to find the answer himself (and within himself) and then he needs to be behind it 100%.  Having taken a decision, he then needs to sell it to the American People and to the US Congress.  This is no place for nuance. 

Regards  —  Cliff

  Which is to say, no place for a Senator Kerry like nuanced approach.  This is the time and place for a George Bush like stubbornness, either way the President chooses.

1 comment:

The New Englander said...

I agree with the idea that a decision is needed, and then once that direction is set, let's run to it, so to speak.

I'm interested in the comparison Brooks makes between people who've been to Afghanistan (and, by implication, those who haven't) and the conclusions they make about what is or what isn't possible.

It's important to bear in mind that there's no need to impose an artificial timeline on a COIN fight, and there's tons of room for different potential strategies. I know you've mentioned Colombia and the Philippines favorably on this blog as examples of the U.S. advancing interests with a light footprint.

One thing I know -- any idea that Joe Biden or anyone else has about *just* using targeted SOF raids to solve the problem seems like a good way to unlearn EVERYTHING about COIN that we've learned for the past decade, at considerable loss of blood and treasure. That's a proven way to protect no one but simultaneously leave everyone open to resentment, fear, and anger. During the day, they can live in fear of a local power that would oppress and intimidate them; at night, they could live in fear of a foreign power's helicopter rotors, heavy boots, and rifle butts.

I don't hear any credible military voice with any OEF/OIF time on ground talking about this idea, which would give the appearance of best of both worlds/having it both ways, while erasing all our real and potential gains and leaving the population vulnerable to the very people OEF was designed to oust..