As I noted yesterday, we are learning that part of the problem — maybe most of it — with our Afghanistan offensive are the president’s imposed timeline and his envoy and ambassador, both of whom can’t seem to carve out a decent relationship with Hamid Karzai or our own military. Jackson Diehl confirms this, delineating how the Obama administration has hobbled the military:
One is the failure of European governments to follow through on pledges to contribute in crucial areas such as training. … A second is the divergence between U.S. interests and those of Karzai, despite a make-up session between the two governments last month in Washington. The Afghan leader had reasons to fire the two pro-American ministers, including their resistance to negotiations with the Taliban. But U.S. sources said he had been pushing for the two men, along with Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, ever since Washington insisted they be included in his cabinet after his reelection last year. Karzai seems determined to minimize American influence. Most seriously, McChrystal’s announcement reflected the continued absence in the U.S. command of a clear and coherent plan for pacifying southern Afghanistan — one that seamlessly blends civilian and military initiatives.
However, it is Obama’s insistence on a timeline — which derives from purely political reasons and, it is widely believed, was pushed into a military debate by the president’s Chicago political cronies. Diehl explains:
Hanging over all these complexities, and driving some of them, is Obama’s imposition of a timeline on the Afghan surge: first a review of its progress this December, followed by the beginning of troop withdrawals in July 2011. The perception that the clock is ticking on the U.S. mission pushes Karzai toward building and defending his own family network, and favoring aides who can talk to Pakistan — and maybe the Taliban — over those close to the United States. It forces McChrystal to focus on producing easier and positive-looking results in the next few months, rather than committing to harder and longer-term solutions. It fuels continuing acrimony among military commanders, who believe the timetable is folly, and State Department and White House civilians, who regard it as the key to Obama’s policy.
Obama should promptly correct his error and reaffirm our determination to seeing the effort through to completion. But here’s the thing: once you’ve signaled your less-than-full commitment to an endeavor, it’s hard to convince friends and foes that you really, honestly will stay as long as it takes to win. As in so many other aspects of foreign policy — the U.S.-Israeli relationship and our Iran policy, especially — it is hard to undo the impression of irresoluteness and flakiness. Whether Obama can do so — or wants to — with regard to Afghanistan is open to debate. Unfortunately, one senses the most important thing to him is not repairing the damage he has wrought but maintaining the myth of his own infallibility.