Monday, August 16, 2010

Best Military Advice

General Petraeus is making the news for saying that he might recommend against a quick withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. Why?

“Certainly, yes,” he said when the show’s host, David Gregory, asked him if, depending on how the war was proceeding, he might tell the president that a drawdown should be delayed. “The president and I sat down in the Oval Office, and he expressed very clearly that what he wants from me is my best professional military advice.”
Some might compare this to McChrystal's criticisms of Biden's views.  Petraeus is much more experienced at this game and has more legitimacy, based on past experience.   And he is speculating about the future.  One where Obama has not really promised a fast drawdown but a re-evaluation of the impact of the surge (which begins in December).  So, Petraeus is defining his role appropriately--to give the unvarnished best advice he can give to the President.  Then it is up to the President to decide.  Petraeus will have to show that there is progress being made, despite Karzai's best efforts to show that he ain't changing.  That is the real problem, right now. 

We expected violence to go up as more and more Americans poured into the country, increasing the tempo of operations and the number of folks who can be targeted.  So, this spike in violence was anticipated, just as violence spiked in Iraq during the outset of the surge.  But will the guys now holding territory face a decline in violence that is not merely seasonal (things slow down in winter)? 

Again, this gets at metrics--what is progress?  How do you measure it?  And which indicators matter most?  Since the campaign is multi-dimensional (military, governance, development, international), if one is failing miserably on one (say, governance with Karzai undermining anti-corruption efforts), does that doom the effort?

The only clear thing right now is that Obama is in a difficult spot--pulling out has huge consequences, but staying is just becoming increasingly costly.  If Petraeus can show to the American people that progress is being made, that should reduce the political costs of sticking around.  But Petraeus is no magician--if there is little progress, then there will be a limit to how much he can spin it.

No comments: