Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Obama Rethinking Afghanistan Strategy

Yesterday Bob Woodward's story about Stanley McChrystal's counterinsurgency plan for Afghanistan, based on a "leaked" document, wasn't anything that hasn't already been said before, though there are more specifics, and it actually says that "doubling down" isn't going to help matters:
Success is achievable, but it will not be attained simply by trying harder of "doubling down" on the previous strategy. Additional resources are required, but focusing on force or resource requirements misses the point entirely. The key take away from this assessment is the urgent need for a significant change to our strategy and the way that we think and operation."
Read the "leaked" document here:
My first hunch was that the White House leaked the document. But one these folks could've had a hand in "leaking" the unclassified document. Politico is playing it like a whodunit today:
White House officials greeted the leak with a grimace, but none suggested they’d begin a witch hunt for the leaker. Woodward is famous for his access to the principals themselves — he recently traveled to Afghanistan with National Security Adviser James Jones — and leak hunters couldn’t expect with confidence that they’d find themselves disciplining just an undisciplined junior staffer.

But inside the White House and out, the leak touched off another familiar Washington ritual: speculation about the leaker’s identity and motives. Politico
Politico also says it could've been leaked by someone seeking fame:
“It’s most likely someone who has or is cultivating a personal relationship with Bob Woodward and positioning himself to look good in Woodward’s next book,” said Matt Bennett, vice president at the Democratic-leaning think tank Third Way, echoing the views of many inside government and out. The history of Woodward sources portrayed as heroes is long, including the likes of Colin Powell and, for a time, George W. Bush. But Woodward’s take on the Bush administration also changed dramatically with time, and some portrayed positively in his early books were savaged in the later ones.
The Washington Post concluded that Obama is rethinking the strategy:
Instead of debating whether to give McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, more troops, the discussion in the White House is now focused on whether, after eight years of war, the United States should vastly expand counterinsurgency efforts along the lines he has proposed -- which involve an intensive program to improve security and governance in key population centers -- or whether it should begin shifting its approach away from such initiatives and simply target leaders of terrorist groups who try to return to Afghanistan....
The principal game-changer, in the view of White House officials, was Afghanistan's presidential election last month, which was compromised by fraud, much of it in support of President Hamid Karzai. Although the results have not been certified, he almost certainly will remain in office, but under a cloud of illegitimacy that could complicate U.S. efforts to promote good governance.
Unnamed sources (I hate when the media does that) are getting antsy:
But Obama's deliberative pace -- he has held only one meeting of his top national security advisers to discuss McChrystal's report so far -- is a source of growing consternation within the military. "Either accept the assessment or correct it, or let's have a discussion," one Pentagon official said. "Will you read it and tell us what you think?" Within the military, this official said, "there is a frustration. A significant frustration. A serious frustration."
Still, it looks like we're going to be in Afghanistan one way or another. In this recent interview with Al Jazeera, Defense Secretary Robert Gates says he disagrees with McChrystal on the troop levels (at 7:22 mark). He worries that the U.S. could be seen as occupiers. But Gates also says that withdrawal from Afghanistan is out of the question: