Day By Day

Monday, May 11, 2009

This Does Not Look Good

Obama takes charge of Afghanistan policy:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama fired the top U.S. general in Afghanistan on Monday, replacing him with a former special forces commander in a quest for a more agile, unconventional approach in a war that has gone quickly downhill. With the Taliban resurgent, Obama's switch from Gen. David McKiernan to Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal suggests the new commander in chief wants major changes in addition to the additional troops he's ordering into Afghanistan to shore up the war effort.

McKiernan, on the job for less than a year, has repeatedly pressed for more forces. Although Obama has approved more than 21,000 additional troops this year, he has warned that the war will not be won by military means.

Read it here.

The article sugggests that Obama's "revamped strategy" will emphasize Special Forces ops as well as non-military engagement with the Taliban [which sounds more like negotiating a disengagement than anything else]. It also involves shifting primary attention toward Pakistan.

In other words Afghanistan has now been firmly placed on the back burner. We will reduce our involvement there so as to focus more attention and more of our efforts on Pakistan -- understandable given the fact that Pak is a nuclear power that threatens our close ally, India, but it threatens to negate all of the gains we previously have made in the region.

Clearly Washington and academic "realists" approve of this move. Ceding Afghanistan to save Pakistan makes sense on the level of IR theory. But abandoning the Karzide regime, if it comes to that, will have huge consequences, not just in Afghanistan but througout all of Asia. Once again America will be perceived as the "weak horse".

General McKiernan must have stoutly resisted the change because he was summarily fired.

I wonder how long it will be before dismissed commanders will begin to issue their books attacking the administration's military strategy in Afghanistan. In the case of Iraq it was only a matter of months. And when these attacks on the Obamination come, will they be treated with the same amount of deference by the MSM as were the attacks on Bush and Rummy?

Don't count on it.

What bothers me most about this is that, while Bush demonstrated the determination, leadership, and political skills necessary to sustain large-scale war effort against a level of political and bureaucratic opposition that would have overwhelmed a lesser man, Obama shows none of these qualities. He appears weak, vacillating, and eager to rid himself of the whole set of problems. I hope he will prove otherwise, but this apparent willingness to cede gains in Afghanistan does not inspire confidence that he will be able to suddenly grow a spine when the going gets tough [as it certainly will] in Pakistan.


Wretchard over at the Belmont Club summarizes the major points of analysis surrounding this change in command. I agree wholeheartedly with his final comment:
What the “real” reasons are will likely be leaked in the coming weeks. But what matters most isn’t McKiernan’s replacement itself, but what it tells us about the new strategy in Washington, which is the key determinant of victory or defeat in the region.
Read it here.

James Joyner, head of the Atlantic Council, has interesting comments here.