I wanted to add a concurring opinion to what Max Boot and Robert Kagan have written about President Obama’s decision to further bolster American forces in Afghanistan, sending 4,000 more troops to train Afghan security forces on top of the 17,000 combat troops he has already ordered into Afghanistan.
We should give credit where credit is due — Obama did an impressive and important thing today. Like Max, I’m somewhat skeptical about certain elements of his approach. But if a few months back you had told those of us who support the war efforts where Obama would be, and what he would have done, on both Afghanistan and Iraq at this stage in his presidency, we would have taken it in a heartbeat. Unlike his approach to economic matters, on national security Obama is acting in a fairly centrist and responsible manner. He is doing what he can to ensure that we don’t undo the progress we’ve made in Iraq, and that we improve on our efforts in Afghanistan. To have a commander-in-chief who is determined to win wars instead of allowing them to slip away is quite reassuring.
A lot still has to unfold in both countries, and tough decisions lay ahead for Obama here and elsewhere. But for now, he made the right call, and did so in an environment where more and more people are calling for us to dial down our efforts in Afghanistan. The “good war” has suddenly become, for many people, the un-winnable war. But like Iraq, wars that are encountering severe difficulties can be turned around. Progress can be made. Even under the best case scenario, improvements will be slow, given all the problems a country like Afghanistan poses — from its terrain and geography to its poverty and decimated civil society. We will surely encounter difficulties and setbacks along the way. But to quote General David Petraeus in a different context (Iraq in 2007), hard is not hopeless. The fact that the remarkable Petraeus is (among others) overseeing things is a source of comfort and confidence.
As a post-script, it’s worth noting something Abe picks up on. According to the New York Times, “In imposing conditions on the Afghans and Pakistanis, Mr. Obama is replicating a strategy used in Iraq two years ago both to justify a deeper American commitment and prod governments in the region to take more responsibility for quelling the insurgency and building lasting political institutions.”
President Obama will probably never admit that he is learning from the recent success we have seen in Iraq. But he doesn’t need to admit to it; it’s sufficient for him to have learned. What the President did today on Afghanistan was right, and all credit is due him.