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Contentions

Searching for a Different Answer

The White House seminars on the Afghanistan war are continuing. The term papers assigned this quarter include a “province-by-province analysis of Afghanistan to determine which regions are being managed effectively by local leaders and which require international help, information that his advisers say will guide his decision on how many additional U.S. troops to send to the battle.” But there is a hint as to where this is headed. The military commanders are being phased out and the political appointees are taking charge:

The review group once included intelligence officials, generals and ambassadors, but it has recently narrowed to a far smaller number of senior civilian advisers, including Biden, Gates, Jones, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, among others.

But the game is obvious here. Extract information, second-guess the military, and lower the troop levels:

“There are a lot of questions about why McChrystal has identified the areas that he has identified as needing more forces,” said a senior military official familiar with the review, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the deliberations candidly. “Some see it as an attempt by the White House to do due diligence on the commander’s troop request. A less charitable view is that it is a 5,000-mile screwdriver tinkering from Washington.”

No wonder the process is taking so long. All this homework and micromanaging takes time. But in the end, will the American people believe that faux Gens. Biden and Emanuel were smarter than Gen. Stanley McChrystal? The voters in repeated polls have already said they trust the military commanders by a wide margin over the president to make the calls on Afghanistan. That isn’t how it should work in our system of civilian control. But the public has smelled a rat — and is right to conclude that the president and his team aren’t making decisions on the merits but rather are massaging the facts to get to a result they desire.

The seminar process has not inspired confidence. Moreover, the president’s failure to reiterate the importance of a successful outcome (he doesn’t like the word victory) has allowed public support for the war to erode further. It’s hard to see whether the president still believes in the effort, given that he’s decided that “the Taliban cannot be eliminated as a military and political force, regardless of how many more troops are deployed.” We are now in the business of half-measures and inconclusive outcomes.

A final decision on the strategy and troop levels, we are told, has not yet been made. But given the handiwork so far, it appears as though the seminar participants are heading for a failing grade.



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