Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Obama Rules Out Large Reduction in Afghan Force

Read the headline carefully. President Obama has ruled out a large reduction in US forces in Afghanistan. It doesn't say that President Obama has ruled out any reduction of forces. It also doesn't say that President Obama will increase forces as requested by those on the front lines, including Gen. Stanley McChrystal.
Meeting with leaders from both parties at the White House, Mr. Obama seemed to be searching for some sort of middle ground, saying he wanted to “dispense with the straw man argument that this is about either doubling down or leaving Afghanistan,” as White House officials later described his remarks.

But as the war approached its eight-year anniversary on Wednesday, the session underscored the perilous crosscurrents awaiting Mr. Obama. While some Democrats said they would support whatever he decided, others challenged him about sending more troops. And Republicans pressed him to order the escalation without delay, leading to a pointed exchange between the president and Senator John McCain of Arizona, his Republican opponent from last year’s election.

Mr. McCain told the president that “time is not on our side.” He added, “This should not be a leisurely process,” according to several people in the room.

A few minutes later, Mr. Obama replied, “John, I can assure you this won’t be leisurely,” according to several attendees. “No one feels more urgency to get this right than I do.”

Still, compared with the harsh debate over health care, the tone was civil and restrained during the 75-minute meeting in the State Dining Room as Mr. Obama, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and about 30 members of Congress gathered around a large table with only glasses of water and notebooks in front of them.

Mr. Obama summoned the lawmakers to assure them that he would keep their concerns in mind as he considered the request of his commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, for as many as 40,000 more troops. The president plans to meet with his national security team on Wednesday to talk about Pakistan and on Friday to talk about Afghanistan. Aides plan to schedule one more meeting before he decides on General McChrystal’s proposal.
President Obama is in a tough position, and continued support for the Afghanistan operations is coming from Republicans, as Democrats' support is clearly wavering.

A significant number of Democrats want to see the American commitment in Iraq curtailed; they want to bring the troops home. In fact, 98 have signed on to a House bill calling for an exit strategy for Afghanistan.
Walz, for instance, has signed onto a bill by Rep. Jim McGovern (Mass.), the most vocal critic among House Democrats of the Afghan war, calling on Obama to develop an “exit strategy” for getting U.S. forces out of the troubled country. The McGovern bill has 98 co-sponsors, including more than two dozen freshman and sophomore Democrats.

McGovern also released a bipartisan letter to Obama last week, urging the president to “reject any recommendation for a further escalation of U.S. military forces” in Afghanistan.

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), who like Walz was opposed to the Iraq war, said he signed onto the McGovern letter because boosting the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan isn’t the right solution.
Again, read this carefully; they say that the US squandered an opportunity to go after the Taliban by focusing on Iraq, and yet when the opportunity presents itself to go after the Taliban (with more troops - since that's what was diverted by Iraq according to this line of thinking), they're opting to curtail operations further.

Sen. Carl Levin makes a nonsensical argument that increased US presence in Afghanistan is counterproductive because it looks like the US is an occupying nation. Has Levin looked over to Iraq? The US troop presence is slowly declining from its peak during the surge, and Iraqis now have political and civil control over most of the country, even if they're still dealing with a tenuous security situation because of insurgents that want to kill and maim Iraqis at every opportunity.

The US presence in Afghanistan (troop authorization is 68,000) is nearly half of the number that we've seen in Iraq (which was more than 120,000), and the reason that the Taliban have been resurgent is because US, Afghan, and NATO forces have not been able to shut down the cross-border Taliban operations and the NATO forces have largely taken defensive positions, rather than striking out offensively against the Taliban to thwart their slow creep back into positions of control around the country. The US isn't seen as an occupying nation unless the US makes that its goal; and that was never the goal. It was to get the nation on its feet and set a course to being a functional state.

There is a long way to go before that happens, but cutting forces is going to severely undermine that goal. Moreover, it will give the Taliban a chance to spread, and with it bring al Qaeda back into prominence.

At the same time, you've got Democrats complaining that the war in Afghanistan didn't start until this year, a clear slam at the Bush Administration, which is playing things too cute by half given the Democrats reluctance to send troops to Afghanistan to combat the Taliban and to thwart the Taliban and al Qaeda from regaining a safe haven there.

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