Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Decision Point Arriving

The latest news is that Obama is looking at four options (although one is a mystery) for the big decision in Afghanistan.  His greatest concern is about the partner on the ground.
Officials said that although the president had no doubt about what large numbers of United States troops could achieve on their own in Afghanistan, he repeatedly asked questions during recent meetings on Afghanistan about whether a sizable American force might undercut the urgency of the preparations of the Afghan forces who are learning to stand up on their own.“He’s simply not convinced yet that you can do a lasting counterinsurgency strategy if there is no one to hand it off to,” one participant said.
What kind of President is this?  Asking about the long term?  Thinking about the consequences?  I have not begrudged him the time it has taken for Obama to reach the decision.  Indeed, it provided some leverage over Karzai, although perhaps not enough, over the election wrangling.  I do think that coming close to McChrystal's recommendations is inevitable--both because the situation on the ground requires a better effort and to deflect domestic criticism.  If Afghanistan does not stop sliding in a year or two, then Obama will be in a better position to say that he supported the US military and its advice but the situation is untenable.

Of course, today, on Rememberance Day (as it is known in Canada) or Veterans' Day  (US), we ask is it worth one more American life?  One more Canadian?  Canadians are loathe to admit that they are valuing the lives of their citizens over Afghans.  Americans are more comfortable with that.  If it is all about lives, then sticking around and reinforcing makes sense, as a population centric strategy should both reduce the threat posed by the Taliban to the people of Afghanistan and reduce the likelihood of collateral damage in the long run as the outsiders develop better intel, can react more flexibly, and are better trained to fight tomorrow rather than today if there is a big risk of hurting civilians.

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