Sunday, November 22, 2009

Agenda-Setting--Never Overlook It

General Stanley McChrystal presented Obama with three options--80k, 40k or 10-15k.  I am pretty sure that the 80k was there to make the 40k look reasonable.  Given the articles already written about what an additional 40k would mean in terms of strain on the US armed forces, 80k was never really in play.  But it gave Obama room to look like he was rejecting the extreme choices and could safely choose the middle option.  But the problem for McChrystal is that the 80k dropped out so fast that the 40k ended up being the extreme option, facilitating temptations to split the difference. 

But as this article suggests, each choice has a significant impact on what can be done on the ground.  And again, this is just about the military side of things.  But these military constraints/tradeoffs have huge implications.  Under any scenario, it looks increasingly likely that the US and its NATO partners are going to write off large hunks of the country and focus the effort on ten or so population centers.  Choosing which centers are to be defended and developed and which ones are not--that is the stuff of politics and will have significant and long-lasting implications for Afghanistan. 

So, the choice may be 30k--enough to make a difference, but also different enough to send a message that Obama is not going to blindly follow the military.  And he has support for this option:
This way encompasses a number of mid-range options under discussion at the Pentagon and the White House. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates; Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have coalesced around a plan to send 30,000 or more troops to Afghanistan, although there are variations in their positions and they are not working in lock step.
During the original surge, there was tension between what Petraeus and the other COIN guys wanted and what the military establishment wanted to do--in large part because of a concern that additional troops would stress the army beyond the breaking point.  And we see this happening again--intra-military differences focused on the requirements of the mission vs. the needs of the military.

Just makes it easier to understand why this decision is taking time--it is an incredibly difficult set of tradeoffs.

1 comment:

Bill Ayres said...

Framing a choice to bracket the one you want? Gosh, where have I heard that trick before?

Right - Graham Allison's "Essence of Decision". I guess the really good tricks never get old.