The Afghanistan policy review at the White House is getting more farcical — if that’s possible. It’s bizarre enough that every NSC meeting in this endless review is publicly announced and its contents are then leaked for public dissection in the next morning’s newspapers. Now we read in every major newspaper (see, e.g., in the Los Angeles Times, this) that Karl Eikenberry, the retired general who is the U.S. ambassador in Kabul, “has warned in classified cables against any further buildup of American forces in the country … saying that additional troops would be unwise because of the corruption and ineffectiveness of the Afghan government.”
One would think that the merits of this position would have been hashed out long ago (like, say, back in March, when the results of the last Afghan policy review were announced) and that President Obama would have concluded by now that we can’t simply write off Afghanistan because of the “corruption and ineffectiveness” of its government. But, no, Eikenberry’s cables seem to have landed with the impact of a mortar round in the White House and, if leaks are to believed, they have further reinforced the president’s tendency toward hesitation and doubt.
It does not exactly inspire confidence to read this account of the latest NSC meeting, from the New York Times:
A central focus of Mr. Obama’s questions, officials said, was how long it would take to see results and be able to withdraw.
“He wants to know where the off-ramps are,” one official said.
So the president is already looking to leave Afghanistan before he has even committed more forces? He’s more interested in an exit strategy than a strategy for success? What a terrible message to send to our troops and what a heartening message to send to our enemies.
It’s hard to know, of course, if this is an accurate reflection of what the man in the Oval Office is thinking — or simply a reflection of what the aides who are providing all these quotes for the media are thinking. Whatever the case, this bespeaks an extraordinarily chaotic and undisciplined White House decision-making process, with the president’s most senior advisers playing out their disagreements in public even after Gen. Stanley McChrystal had been chastised for making his own views known.
Whatever the president now decides, it will place one of our senior representatives in Kabul in a very difficult position. If the president decides to send a large number of additional troops, that will undermine the standing of Eikenberry. If he decides not to send those troops, he will undermine the standing of McChrystal. Either way, it will be harder for the two men to work together after their differences have been so publicly aired.