Obama, not a ‘de­cider’, faces a tough call

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Pat Buchanan

The Pen­tagon’s pre-emp­tive strike came with the leak of Gen. Stan­ley McChrys­tal’s con­fi­den­tial re­view of the Afghan war to Bob Wood­ward of The Wash­ing­ton Post.

Mr. McChrys­tal’s paint­ing of the mil­i­tary pic­ture was grim.

“Fail­ure to gain the ini­tia­tive and re­verse in­sur­gent mo­men­tum in the near-term (next 12 months) — while Afghan se­cu­rity ca­pac­ity ma­tures — risks an out­come where de­feat­ing the in­sur­gency is no longer pos­si­ble.”

If I don’t get the troops to re­verse the Tal­iban gains, said Mr. McChrys­tal, we face “mis­sion fail­ure.” A Saigon end­ing to the Afghan war. Word was quickly out that Mr. McChrys­tal wanted 40,000 troops, to bring U.S. force lev­els to 110,000 and coali­tion forces to 140,000.

Two weeks ago, a three-hour re­view was held at the White House. Mr. McChrys­tal par­tic­i­pated by tele­con­fer­ence. His strat­egy — fight a coun­terin­sur­gency against the Tal­iban by tak­ing and hold­ing pop­u­la­tion cen­ters, pro­tect­ing the Afghan peo­ple and build­ing up Kabul’s army, econ­omy and gov­ern­ment — was chal­lenged.

Among those urg­ing a smaller U.S. foot­print and a strate­gic shift from fight­ing the Tal­iban to killing al Qaeda in Pak­istan with drone and Spe­cial Forces strikes was Joe Bi­den.

Mr. McChrys­tal an­swered Mr. Bi­den in a speech and Q-and-A ses­sion in Lon­don, all but say­ing Joe ought to stick to the rub­ber­chicken cir­cuit and leave war to the war­riors. A “counter-ter­ror­ist fo­cus” like the Bi­den strat­egy, said Mr. McChrys­tal, would lead straight to “Chaos-is­tan.” Would he sup­port it? “The short an­swer is no,” said Mr. McChrys­tal. “Wait­ing does not pro­long a fa­vor­able out­come. This ef­fort will not re­main winnable in­def­i­nitely, and nor will pub­lic sup­port” — a shot at what crit­ics are call­ing Mr. Obama’s dither­ing in de­cid­ing on Mr. McChrys­tal’s troop re­quest.

Mr. Obama, said to be “fu­ri­ous,” called Mr. McChrys­tal to Copen­hagen for a 25-minute face-to-face on Air Force One.

Yet McChrys­tal is now quoted in Newsweek about any half mea­sures to re­verse a de­te­ri­o­rat­ing sit­u­a­tion. “You can’t hope to con­tain the fire by let­ting just half the build­ing burn.”

On Oct. 4, Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser Gen. James Jones said of the McChrys­tal-Obama meet­ing, “I am sure they ex­changed di­rect views.”

Mr. Jones went on to sug­gest Mr. McChrys­tal’s rec­om­men­da­tions were merely the gen­eral’s “own opin­ion” of “what he thinks his role within that strat­egy is.” Other fac­tors must go into the fi­nal de­ci­sions on strat­egy and force lev­els. Among them, said Mr. Jones, is the elec­tion de­ba­cle in Kabul that made Tehran’s vote look like Iowa.

Mr. Jones tossed ice wa­ter on Mr. McChrys­tal’s ur­gency. Afghanistan is “in no im­mi­nent dan­ger of fall­ing to the Tal­iban,” and al-Qaida has “less than 100” fight­ers in the coun­try, “no bases, no build­ings to launch at­tacks ei­ther on us or our al­lies.”

As for Mr. McChrys­tal’s pub­lic cam­paign, said Jones, “It’s bet­ter for mil­i­tary ad­vice to come up through the chain of com­mand.”

Con­cen­trat­ing the minds of all on Oct. 4 was news that 10 U.S. sol­diers were killed, two by an Afghan solider, eight when their re­mote out­post near Pak­istan was at­tacked by hun­dreds of Tal­iban.

As Mr. Obama ap­proaches the piv­otal de­ci­sion of his pres­i­dency, here is where the ma­jor play­ers seem to be lin­ing up.

Mr. McChrys­tal be­lieves so strongly in the need for 40,000 troops he could re­sign his com­mand if de­nied them. Chair­man of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Michael Mullen seems to be in the McChrys­tal camp.

Gen. David Pe­traeus, re­gional com­man­der for Afghanistan and Iraq, has yet to com­mit him­self. But as ar­chi­tect of the surge in Iraq, he would seem to sup­port Mr. McChrys­tal. What Mr. Pe­traeus will do, if the McChrys­tal re­quest is de­nied, is the big ques­tion in Wash­ing­ton. For Mr. Pe­traeus re­port­edly sees him­self as a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date.

From her own words, Hil­lary is with Mr. McChrys­tal: “Some peo­ple say, well, al Qaeda’s no longer in Afghanistan. If Afghanistan were taken over by the Tal­iban, I can’t tell you how fast al Qaeda would be back in Afghanistan.”

This chal­lenges what Gen. Jones said Oct. 4 when he min­i­mized the al Qaeda threat in Afghanistan and the Tal­iban threat to Kabul.

De­fense Sec­re­tary Robert Gates will be a key player. It was he who re­lieved Gen. David McKier­nan of his com­mand in May, say­ing we need “fresh think­ing,” and turned Afghanistan over to Mr. McChrys­tal, whom he de­scribed as a sol­dier who shared the per­spec­tive of Mr. Pe­traeus. Can Mr. Gates come down against the gen­eral he ap­pointed only months ago?

Yet Mr. Bi­den is not alone. Mr. Jones is re­cep­tive to his views, as are a ma­jor­ity of Mr. Obama’s party on the Hill, as are White House aides who see Afghanistan as Obama’s Viet­nam, as is most of the na­tion.

Mr. Obama is thus be­ing told by the McChyrstal camp: If you do not send the 40,000, you lose the war and the pres­i­dency. He is be­ing told by the Bi­den camp: If you send the 40,000, Afghanistan will be your Viet­nam; you will not win it by 2012; and you will lose the pres­i­dency.

Look for Mr. Obama, not a nat­u­ral De­cider, to split the dif­fer­ence and send a few thou­sand U.S. troops to train the Afghan army.

Pat Buchanan is a na­tion­ally syndicated colum­nist.

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