Rep. Ike Skelton and Sen. Joe Lieberman, who may be among the only occupiers of ground which was once densely filled with “Scoop Jackson” Democrats, remind us that Obama already decided six months ago on a “an integrated counterinsurgency strategy focused on protecting the Afghan population, building up the Afghan national security forces and improving Afghan governance.” So the question, they say, is now whether the president will fully fund and support that strategy. They argue:
Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s assessment states that his new strategy requires additional resources and the proper execution of an integrated civilian-military counterinsurgency campaign. To this end, he has reportedly forwarded to the president a range of resource options, each with differing levels of risk to the mission. We hope that President Obama will carefully weigh these recommendations and provide his commander with the necessary forces and civilian resources he needs to properly execute a counterinsurgency campaign.
They make the case that only a “properly resourced counterinsurgency” can defeat the Taliban, encourage the Afghanistan government to build functioning institutions and serve its people, and provide the necessary security to prevent the toppling of a nuclear-armed Pakistan. And as for public opinion, they contend that success will beget support. The bottom line:
The last time they were in power, the Taliban not only brutally suppressed the human rights of their own people, they also welcomed Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda network into Afghanistan, refusing to give them up even after Sept. 11, 2001. Allowing the Taliban to return to power would represent a major victory for extremist forces throughout the world, tilt the balance of power in South Asia in their favor and further endanger America’s homeland security from terrorists trained there.
And one wonders: what exactly is the argument on the other side? “We’d rather not enrage the netroots, who didn’t really mean what they said about the ‘good war’” is not a response. It’s an excuse. “We’d rather spend the money on something else” is not a counter-argument either. It’s a dodge, about as responsible as the consumer who doesn’t want to make the payments on the mortgage he signed. “It’ll be a drag on the president’s agenda and re-election prospects” isn’t a point either. Again, it’s not a substantive argument on the merits. It therefore isn’t hard to understand why the political advisers, not the military men, are pushing for the “not McChrystal” option.
There is, however, a greater danger here. It may not be that the only question is how to execute the counterinsurgency strategy which the president laid out. The White House seminars, from what we have heard, are re-examining the strategy itself. Maybe we can clip al-Qaeda’s wings and leave the Taliban out of it. Maybe Afghanistan is too corrupt for us to support. Maybe Pakistan wouldn’t mind the U.S. fighting a remote war.
All of these arguments we now hear re-surfacing, one suspects, because if the president doesn’t like the unanimous answer from his military advisers, then the only thing to do is to change the question. Rather than face the consequences of the answer to the original question (“How do we implement the counterinsurgency to stabilize Afghanistan and Pakistan?”), the president would prefer to answer a simpler, but inadequate query (“How can we fight a remote war against al-Qaeda?”).
The president might pass his seminar class if he does that, but he will not have faced the real issues before him as commander in chief. We can only hope that Skelton and Lieberman, along with Sens. Feinstein and Inouye, help the class focus on the real issues and the real risks for failing to do what is needed to prevail in a critical front in the war against Islamic terror.