Ever since President Obama came to office, conservatives have been expressing concern about his level of commitment to the war in Afghanistan. The deadline he announced last fall to begin a troop drawdown in the summer of 2011 only added to doubts about his staying power. But at every decision point, he has consistently opted to double down in Afghanistan rather than pull out, as many of his supporters urge.
Now, courtesy of the Washington Post, comes further confirmation, if any were needed, that no bug-out is imminent. “Despite discouraging news from Afghanistan and growing doubts in Congress and among the American public,” writes reporter Karen DeYoung, “the Obama administration has concluded that its war strategy is sound and that a December review, once seen as a pivotal moment, is unlikely to yield any major changes.”
This comes after a New York Times report on the extent to which Obama, once skeptical of General David Petraeus, has come to rely on him. My former boss, Les Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, is quoted as saying: “They are joined at the hip, but the leverage lies with Petraeus. And Petraeus has made plain, publicly, that after July 2011, he doesn’t think there should be a rapid pullout.” I think that’s right, and what it means is that Petraeus will have the time necessary to try to turn around a very difficult situation.
Whether he has enough troops, notwithstanding the recent surge, remains an open question. In the new Weekly Standard, Gary Schmitt makes a strong case, based on traditional counterinsurgency metrics, for sending three more brigades. “Adding three Army combat brigades, some 10,000 troops,” he writes, “would give commanders more flexibility to act with the kind of resoluteness that marked the surge in Iraq in 2007 and that allowed it to succeed.” Petraeus himself has made no such request (as far as I know), and it is far from clear if Obama would grant such a request. But it is hardly outside the realm of possibility. Increasingly, this is being seen as “Obama’s War,” and that means that Obama had better win it — or suffer the consequences.