The latest spin-filled explanation for the stalemate on our Afghanistan war strategy comes from the Washington Post. You see, the civilian leadership didn’t really understand that a full counterinsurgency strategy meant, well, a full counterinsurgency strategy. We get this convoluted tale: over the objection of the noted military historian and war strategist Joe Biden, the military recommended and the president accepted in March a counterinsurgency strategy, but civilian and military leaders somehow didn’t agree on what this meant:
To senior military commanders, the sentence was unambiguous: U.S. and NATO forces would have to change the way they operate in Afghanistan. Instead of focusing on hunting and killing insurgents, the troops would have to concentrate on protecting the good Afghans from the bad ones.
And to carry out such a counterinsurgency effort the way its doctrine prescribes, the military would almost certainly need more boots on the ground.
To some civilians who participated in the strategic review, that conclusion was much less clear. Some took it as inevitable that more troops would be needed, but others thought the thrust of the new approach was to send over scores more diplomats and reconstruction experts. They figured a counterinsurgency mission could be accomplished with the forces already in country, plus the 17,000 new troops Obama had authorized in February.
Really? If so, this is a fundamental breakdown in policy formulation and communication that makes the Guantanamo debacle look like small potatoes. But perhaps this is something more basic: the president, egged on by Biden, is losing his nerve and doesn’t want to spend the money to win the war he said was critical to our national security. So now that it is apparent what it will cost and how many troops are needed, the president has flinched. And it’s now time to revisit that call made back in March. (If you don’t like the answer, go change the question, I suppose.)
Take your pick: a monumental disconnect between civilian and military leaders or a loss of will and nerve by the commander in chief. Well, the former sounds less awful, so that’s the explanation of choice. But then certainly the person responsible for coordinating policy, assembling competing views, and putting decisions before the president — that’s you, James Jones — has failed miserably. Someone should get canned, you would think.
But in the end it doesn’t matter how we got to where we are. The president has his recommendation, which reflects the unanimous view of the most expert military minds we could have assembled. The president is being told this is the way to win the war, and the alternative from General Joe Biden is a loser — as it was in Iraq. What’s he going to do now? American troops who are risking their lives don’t care that the president may have been confused about what his strategic decision entailed. They are looking for direction. America’s enemies certainly aren’t impressed by a confession of bureaucratic incompetence. And the public may once again be horrified to learn that the Obama national-security team is the most inept in history.