Commentary Magazine


Topic: Stanley McChrystal

The Military vs. Obama

The news of the day is certainly Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s interview with Rolling Stone magazine and the potential fallout. Fox News reports:

The article says that although McChrystal voted for Obama, the two failed to connect from the start. Obama called McChrystal on the carpet last fall for speaking too bluntly about his desire for more troops. “I found that time painful,” McChrystal said in the article, on newsstands Friday. “I was selling an unsellable position.” It quoted an adviser to McChrystal dismissing the early meeting with Obama as a “10-minute photo op.” “Obama clearly didn’t know anything about him, who he was. The boss was pretty disappointed,” the adviser told the magazine.

The article claims McChrystal has seized control of the war “by never taking his eye off the real enemy: The wimps in the White House.”

Asked by the Rolling Stone reporter about what he now feels of the war strategy advocated by Biden last fall – fewer troops, more drone attacks – McChrystal and his aides reportedly attempted to come up with a good one-liner to dismiss the question. “Are you asking about Vice President Biden?” McChrystal reportedly joked. “Who’s that?”

Biden initially opposed McChrystal’s proposal for additional forces last year. He favored a narrower focus on hunting terrorists.

“Biden?” one aide was quoted as saying. “Did you say: Bite me?”

Another aide reportedly called White House National Security Adviser Jim Jones, a retired four star general, a “clown” who was “stuck in 1985.”

Some of the strongest criticism, however, was reserved for Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“The boss says he’s like a wounded animal,” one of the general’s aides was quoted as saying. “Holbrooke keeps hearing rumors that he’s going to get fired, so that makes him dangerous.”

If [Karl] Eikenberry had doubts about the troop buildup, McChrystal said he never expressed them until a leaked internal document threw a wild card into the debate over whether to add more troops last November. In the document, Eikenberry said Afghan President Hamid Karzai was not a reliable partner for the counterinsurgency strategy McChrystal was hired to execute.

McChrystal said he felt “betrayed” and accused the ambassador of giving himself cover.

“Here’s one that covers his flank for the history books,” McChrystal told the magazine. “Now, if we fail, they can say ‘I told you so.”‘

Yeah, wow. There are two issues here — McChrystal’s behavior and the president’s management of the war.

As to the first, Dana Perino wisely advises, “Unless you’re Al Gore or Robert F. Kennedy Jr., if Rolling Stone calls, it’s not because they want to do a positive profile about you.” It was, as McChrystal concedes, a lapse in judgment and a very bad idea to spill his guts to any reporter. He’s been called to Washington to “explain” himself to Obama. Should he be fired? If he is doing his job and is essential to the war effort, then no. But Obama could well decide otherwise. The president is a notoriously thin-skinned man and may also see this as a strategic opportunity to show how tough he is. (Yes, he has the annoying habit of demonstrating how tough he is to someone/some country other than an enemy — Israel, not Iran, for example.)

The substance of what McChrystal is saying is obscured somewhat by the personalized tone (no doubt encouraged by the Rolling Stone reporter to whom the general should not have spoken). But the gravamen of what he is saying is serious and deeply troubling. He is giving voice to what many have been fretting about and what critics outside the administration have been harping on for some time: the White House and the civilian leadership are hampering our war effort. This is not a question of “civilian control”; the president has already declared, albeit with caveats and reservations, that he considers it vital to prevail in Afghanistan. The issue is whether the White House is competent enough and its advisers grown-up enough to support and not hinder the military.

At the very least, this demonstrates Obama’s complete failure to manage the war and to gain the confidence of the military. When this occurs, you can blame the general (again, he’s not disobeying operational orders but merely speaking out of school), but the fault lies with the commander in chief. McChrystal may resign or be fired, but his successor will have the same problems unless the White House gets it act together.

The news of the day is certainly Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s interview with Rolling Stone magazine and the potential fallout. Fox News reports:

The article says that although McChrystal voted for Obama, the two failed to connect from the start. Obama called McChrystal on the carpet last fall for speaking too bluntly about his desire for more troops. “I found that time painful,” McChrystal said in the article, on newsstands Friday. “I was selling an unsellable position.” It quoted an adviser to McChrystal dismissing the early meeting with Obama as a “10-minute photo op.” “Obama clearly didn’t know anything about him, who he was. The boss was pretty disappointed,” the adviser told the magazine.

The article claims McChrystal has seized control of the war “by never taking his eye off the real enemy: The wimps in the White House.”

Asked by the Rolling Stone reporter about what he now feels of the war strategy advocated by Biden last fall – fewer troops, more drone attacks – McChrystal and his aides reportedly attempted to come up with a good one-liner to dismiss the question. “Are you asking about Vice President Biden?” McChrystal reportedly joked. “Who’s that?”

Biden initially opposed McChrystal’s proposal for additional forces last year. He favored a narrower focus on hunting terrorists.

“Biden?” one aide was quoted as saying. “Did you say: Bite me?”

Another aide reportedly called White House National Security Adviser Jim Jones, a retired four star general, a “clown” who was “stuck in 1985.”

Some of the strongest criticism, however, was reserved for Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“The boss says he’s like a wounded animal,” one of the general’s aides was quoted as saying. “Holbrooke keeps hearing rumors that he’s going to get fired, so that makes him dangerous.”

If [Karl] Eikenberry had doubts about the troop buildup, McChrystal said he never expressed them until a leaked internal document threw a wild card into the debate over whether to add more troops last November. In the document, Eikenberry said Afghan President Hamid Karzai was not a reliable partner for the counterinsurgency strategy McChrystal was hired to execute.

McChrystal said he felt “betrayed” and accused the ambassador of giving himself cover.

“Here’s one that covers his flank for the history books,” McChrystal told the magazine. “Now, if we fail, they can say ‘I told you so.”‘

Yeah, wow. There are two issues here — McChrystal’s behavior and the president’s management of the war.

As to the first, Dana Perino wisely advises, “Unless you’re Al Gore or Robert F. Kennedy Jr., if Rolling Stone calls, it’s not because they want to do a positive profile about you.” It was, as McChrystal concedes, a lapse in judgment and a very bad idea to spill his guts to any reporter. He’s been called to Washington to “explain” himself to Obama. Should he be fired? If he is doing his job and is essential to the war effort, then no. But Obama could well decide otherwise. The president is a notoriously thin-skinned man and may also see this as a strategic opportunity to show how tough he is. (Yes, he has the annoying habit of demonstrating how tough he is to someone/some country other than an enemy — Israel, not Iran, for example.)

The substance of what McChrystal is saying is obscured somewhat by the personalized tone (no doubt encouraged by the Rolling Stone reporter to whom the general should not have spoken). But the gravamen of what he is saying is serious and deeply troubling. He is giving voice to what many have been fretting about and what critics outside the administration have been harping on for some time: the White House and the civilian leadership are hampering our war effort. This is not a question of “civilian control”; the president has already declared, albeit with caveats and reservations, that he considers it vital to prevail in Afghanistan. The issue is whether the White House is competent enough and its advisers grown-up enough to support and not hinder the military.

At the very least, this demonstrates Obama’s complete failure to manage the war and to gain the confidence of the military. When this occurs, you can blame the general (again, he’s not disobeying operational orders but merely speaking out of school), but the fault lies with the commander in chief. McChrystal may resign or be fired, but his successor will have the same problems unless the White House gets it act together.

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Yes We Can … Win in Afghanistan

Andrew Exum has posted a short reply to my critique of his hand-wringing article on Afghanistan. He begins on a nice note: “I respect the heck out of Max Boot and consider him among the smartest of the thinkers often lumped under the label ‘neoconservative’.” (I especially like the way he distances himself from the cliched neocon label.) He then goes on to concede, “Boot is right, to a degree, about political will.” (I had written that, although political will is now lacking in the United States, it could easily be manufactured, if only President Obama were to be slightly more resolute.) But Andrew writes:

I think Boot, like many other neoconservatives, overestimates the importance of U.S. actions and downplays the agency of others. So Afghanistan will definitely be a success if we will it? Sorry, but that’s not how third-party counterinsurgency campaigns work. The actions of others matter as much or more than our own.

For my part, I respect the heck out of Andrew Exum and believe his arguments are worthy of a more detailed examination.

Will Afghanistan definitely be a success if we will it? Nothing is definite, especially not in the confusing realm of warfare. But I think the odds are good — certainly better than 50% — that a reasonable commitment of time and resources can make Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy (which Andrew helped formulate) to succeed. Population-centric counterinsurgency has worked in countries as diverse as Iraq, Malaya, the Philippines, Northern Ireland, Oman, and Colombia. Historically speaking (and I say this based on research I’m currently doing for a book on the history of guerrilla warfare and terrorism), it is the most successful counterinsurgency strategy there is. Does that mean it will work in every instance? Of course not. But it works more often than not, and I have yet to see any evidence that Afghanistan is uniquely resistant to such an approach.

There are difficulties, to be sure, principally having to do with weak and corrupt government; but those problems were well known a year ago, when the McChrystal strategy was formulated with Andrew’s input and support. What has changed in the past year to make McChrystal’s approach invalid? Nothing that I can see.

Indeed, the biggest cause for optimism remains intact — namely the unpopularity of the Taliban. Public opinion polls show that only 6% of the Afghan people would like to see them return to power. The percentage is slightly higher in the South but still well short of a majority. The Taliban suffer from a major disadvantage that did not afflict successful insurgencies in countries such as China, Vietnam, and Cuba: they have actually been in power before and people remember how awful they were. Some 90% of Afghans favor the current government for all of its myriad imperfections.

The Taliban are able to make gains only because of the security and governance vacuum that has existed in much of the countryside. Filling that vacuum is certainly difficult and will take a long time. But is it impossible? I think not, because our objectives are fundamentally in alignment with the views of most Afghans. The key, as I stress once again, is whether the U.S. will have the patience and the will to see this war through to an acceptable conclusion — something that Andrew concedes is “probably” a vital interest of ours.

I don’t mean to suggest that the U.S. is capable of doing anything; I don’t think we could transform the moon into Swiss cheese simply by willing it. Can we, working in cooperation with international and local partners, defeat a ragtag guerrilla army of perhaps 20,000 to 30,000 fighters who are widely despised by the population they seek to rule? Yes, we can.

Andrew Exum has posted a short reply to my critique of his hand-wringing article on Afghanistan. He begins on a nice note: “I respect the heck out of Max Boot and consider him among the smartest of the thinkers often lumped under the label ‘neoconservative’.” (I especially like the way he distances himself from the cliched neocon label.) He then goes on to concede, “Boot is right, to a degree, about political will.” (I had written that, although political will is now lacking in the United States, it could easily be manufactured, if only President Obama were to be slightly more resolute.) But Andrew writes:

I think Boot, like many other neoconservatives, overestimates the importance of U.S. actions and downplays the agency of others. So Afghanistan will definitely be a success if we will it? Sorry, but that’s not how third-party counterinsurgency campaigns work. The actions of others matter as much or more than our own.

For my part, I respect the heck out of Andrew Exum and believe his arguments are worthy of a more detailed examination.

Will Afghanistan definitely be a success if we will it? Nothing is definite, especially not in the confusing realm of warfare. But I think the odds are good — certainly better than 50% — that a reasonable commitment of time and resources can make Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy (which Andrew helped formulate) to succeed. Population-centric counterinsurgency has worked in countries as diverse as Iraq, Malaya, the Philippines, Northern Ireland, Oman, and Colombia. Historically speaking (and I say this based on research I’m currently doing for a book on the history of guerrilla warfare and terrorism), it is the most successful counterinsurgency strategy there is. Does that mean it will work in every instance? Of course not. But it works more often than not, and I have yet to see any evidence that Afghanistan is uniquely resistant to such an approach.

There are difficulties, to be sure, principally having to do with weak and corrupt government; but those problems were well known a year ago, when the McChrystal strategy was formulated with Andrew’s input and support. What has changed in the past year to make McChrystal’s approach invalid? Nothing that I can see.

Indeed, the biggest cause for optimism remains intact — namely the unpopularity of the Taliban. Public opinion polls show that only 6% of the Afghan people would like to see them return to power. The percentage is slightly higher in the South but still well short of a majority. The Taliban suffer from a major disadvantage that did not afflict successful insurgencies in countries such as China, Vietnam, and Cuba: they have actually been in power before and people remember how awful they were. Some 90% of Afghans favor the current government for all of its myriad imperfections.

The Taliban are able to make gains only because of the security and governance vacuum that has existed in much of the countryside. Filling that vacuum is certainly difficult and will take a long time. But is it impossible? I think not, because our objectives are fundamentally in alignment with the views of most Afghans. The key, as I stress once again, is whether the U.S. will have the patience and the will to see this war through to an acceptable conclusion — something that Andrew concedes is “probably” a vital interest of ours.

I don’t mean to suggest that the U.S. is capable of doing anything; I don’t think we could transform the moon into Swiss cheese simply by willing it. Can we, working in cooperation with international and local partners, defeat a ragtag guerrilla army of perhaps 20,000 to 30,000 fighters who are widely despised by the population they seek to rule? Yes, we can.

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Why Are We Making It Harder for Our Military to Win in Afghanistan?

In a clip played on Fox News Sunday, General Stanley McChrystal explained that the effort to force the Taliban out of Kandahar is slow going: “I do think that it will happen more slowly than we had originally anticipated, and so I think it will take a number of months for this to play out.  And I think it’s more important we get it right than we get it fast.”

It turns out this has much to do with our civilian officials. Bill Kristol reveals the time line that Obama imposed on our troops and that conservative critics loudly panned is, indeed, part of the problem:

KRISTOL:  I was at a dinner this week with about a dozen experts on Afghanistan, most of whom have been there for quite some time and quite recently, bipartisan group, all of them supportive of the effort, but many very close to the Obama administration, and the non- governmental organizations and the like, and I was amazed by the consensus on two things. One, the time line.  We are paying a much bigger price for the time line over there than a lot of us thought we would when Obama announced…

WALLACE:  The time when we begin pulling troops out in July of 2011.

KRISTOL:  We understand that we could pull them out very slowly, and Secretary Gates and Secretary Clinton sort of walked it back after President Obama announced it.  Over there it sounded like the U.S. is getting out, and everyone’s got to hedge and cut their deals.

I think the single best thing the president personally could do now is explicitly say, “Look, we hope to begin drawing down then, but we are here to stay.”

The next problem is that our State Department, specifically special envoy Richard Holbrooke and Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, is hindering the effort:

The second thing is diplomatically, politically, we’re not doing our job over there.  The military is doing a good job.  General McChrystal’s right to say let’s get it right rather than doing it quickly.  And I think on the whole that General McChrystal certainly knows what he’s doing.

The diplomatic effort — and this is coming from people who are sympathetic, who are on the soft power side of things, who are, you know, from liberal non-governmental organizations — is that our effort has been bad.  It’s not just that we lack a reliable partner there.

Richard Holbrooke, the senior diplomat who’s in charge of it — everyone agrees that it’s been a fiasco.  He’s not — he can’t set foot there because Karzai doesn’t get along with him.  Ambassador Eikenberry doesn’t get along with General McChrystal.  He doesn’t get along either — Eikenberry, that is — with Karzai.  All the burden has fallen on the military.

This is unconscionable. Why, if there is widespread consensus, do Holbrooke and Eikenberry remain? Is Obama’s relationship with the military so bad that he does not understand or appreciate that his own administration is undercutting the war effort?

When the time line was announced, I observed that we would have to win in Afghanistan despite our commander in chief. It is absurd that our military labors under such a handicap, made even more burdensome by incompetent and obnoxious emissaries of the president. It is time for the latter to go and for Obama to fix his errors. However, his political hacks insist on reiterating the president’s faulty and counterproductive strategy. On Meet the Press, David Axelrod had this to say:

Well, the president made it clear that we can’t make an open-ended commitment there, that the Afghan government and the Afghan people have to take responsibility themselves, and their army, their security.  And their civil institutions have to take responsibility.  We–he is committed to begin that process of withdrawal in July of, of next year, and that is–continues to be the plan, and we’re going to pursue that on that schedule.

The administration keeps this up, and Obama will bear the responsibility for losing a war he deemed critical.

In a clip played on Fox News Sunday, General Stanley McChrystal explained that the effort to force the Taliban out of Kandahar is slow going: “I do think that it will happen more slowly than we had originally anticipated, and so I think it will take a number of months for this to play out.  And I think it’s more important we get it right than we get it fast.”

It turns out this has much to do with our civilian officials. Bill Kristol reveals the time line that Obama imposed on our troops and that conservative critics loudly panned is, indeed, part of the problem:

KRISTOL:  I was at a dinner this week with about a dozen experts on Afghanistan, most of whom have been there for quite some time and quite recently, bipartisan group, all of them supportive of the effort, but many very close to the Obama administration, and the non- governmental organizations and the like, and I was amazed by the consensus on two things. One, the time line.  We are paying a much bigger price for the time line over there than a lot of us thought we would when Obama announced…

WALLACE:  The time when we begin pulling troops out in July of 2011.

KRISTOL:  We understand that we could pull them out very slowly, and Secretary Gates and Secretary Clinton sort of walked it back after President Obama announced it.  Over there it sounded like the U.S. is getting out, and everyone’s got to hedge and cut their deals.

I think the single best thing the president personally could do now is explicitly say, “Look, we hope to begin drawing down then, but we are here to stay.”

The next problem is that our State Department, specifically special envoy Richard Holbrooke and Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, is hindering the effort:

The second thing is diplomatically, politically, we’re not doing our job over there.  The military is doing a good job.  General McChrystal’s right to say let’s get it right rather than doing it quickly.  And I think on the whole that General McChrystal certainly knows what he’s doing.

The diplomatic effort — and this is coming from people who are sympathetic, who are on the soft power side of things, who are, you know, from liberal non-governmental organizations — is that our effort has been bad.  It’s not just that we lack a reliable partner there.

Richard Holbrooke, the senior diplomat who’s in charge of it — everyone agrees that it’s been a fiasco.  He’s not — he can’t set foot there because Karzai doesn’t get along with him.  Ambassador Eikenberry doesn’t get along with General McChrystal.  He doesn’t get along either — Eikenberry, that is — with Karzai.  All the burden has fallen on the military.

This is unconscionable. Why, if there is widespread consensus, do Holbrooke and Eikenberry remain? Is Obama’s relationship with the military so bad that he does not understand or appreciate that his own administration is undercutting the war effort?

When the time line was announced, I observed that we would have to win in Afghanistan despite our commander in chief. It is absurd that our military labors under such a handicap, made even more burdensome by incompetent and obnoxious emissaries of the president. It is time for the latter to go and for Obama to fix his errors. However, his political hacks insist on reiterating the president’s faulty and counterproductive strategy. On Meet the Press, David Axelrod had this to say:

Well, the president made it clear that we can’t make an open-ended commitment there, that the Afghan government and the Afghan people have to take responsibility themselves, and their army, their security.  And their civil institutions have to take responsibility.  We–he is committed to begin that process of withdrawal in July of, of next year, and that is–continues to be the plan, and we’re going to pursue that on that schedule.

The administration keeps this up, and Obama will bear the responsibility for losing a war he deemed critical.

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Obama’s Want of Staying Power

Dion Nissenbaum of McClatchy Newspapers accompanied General Stanley McChrystal to Marjah and filed an outstanding report on the current state of play in that Helmand Province town three months after the Marines went in. There is general agreement that the operation has not gone as well in recent weeks as it did in the beginning:

There aren’t enough U.S. and Afghan forces to provide the security that’s needed to win the loyalty of wary locals. The Taliban have beheaded Afghans who cooperate with foreigners in a creeping intimidation campaign. The Afghan government hasn’t dispatched enough local administrators or trained police to establish credible governance, and now the Taliban have begun their anticipated spring offensive.

Commanders in southern Afghanistan are quoted as telling McChrystal that he needs to be patient. “How many days do you think we have before we run out of support by the international community?” McChrystal replied. Instead, he suggested to Major General Nick Carter, the British officer who planned the operation, that more troops should have been used:

“I think that we’ve done well, but I think that the pace of security has been slower,” McChrystal said in one meeting. “I’m thinking that, had we put more force in there, we could have locked that place down better.”

Of course, McChrystal knows that if you put more troops into Marjah, you risk a decline of security in another area. Now, the imperative is to marshal as many soldiers as possible to retake Kandahar, the most important city in the south.

The Marjah offensive should be a cautionary tale in that regard: yes, troops can enter Taliban strongholds quickly. But no, they can’t reverse years of Taliban gains in a heartbeat. That requires sustained presence. The question is whether the Obama administration will show the patience necessary given the deadline the president has set for starting to withdraw troops next summer. As usual, when it comes to American counterinsurgency, the war will be won or lost in Washington — not on some distant battlefield. I only wish I had more confidence in Obama’s staying power and resolution as commander in chief.

Dion Nissenbaum of McClatchy Newspapers accompanied General Stanley McChrystal to Marjah and filed an outstanding report on the current state of play in that Helmand Province town three months after the Marines went in. There is general agreement that the operation has not gone as well in recent weeks as it did in the beginning:

There aren’t enough U.S. and Afghan forces to provide the security that’s needed to win the loyalty of wary locals. The Taliban have beheaded Afghans who cooperate with foreigners in a creeping intimidation campaign. The Afghan government hasn’t dispatched enough local administrators or trained police to establish credible governance, and now the Taliban have begun their anticipated spring offensive.

Commanders in southern Afghanistan are quoted as telling McChrystal that he needs to be patient. “How many days do you think we have before we run out of support by the international community?” McChrystal replied. Instead, he suggested to Major General Nick Carter, the British officer who planned the operation, that more troops should have been used:

“I think that we’ve done well, but I think that the pace of security has been slower,” McChrystal said in one meeting. “I’m thinking that, had we put more force in there, we could have locked that place down better.”

Of course, McChrystal knows that if you put more troops into Marjah, you risk a decline of security in another area. Now, the imperative is to marshal as many soldiers as possible to retake Kandahar, the most important city in the south.

The Marjah offensive should be a cautionary tale in that regard: yes, troops can enter Taliban strongholds quickly. But no, they can’t reverse years of Taliban gains in a heartbeat. That requires sustained presence. The question is whether the Obama administration will show the patience necessary given the deadline the president has set for starting to withdraw troops next summer. As usual, when it comes to American counterinsurgency, the war will be won or lost in Washington — not on some distant battlefield. I only wish I had more confidence in Obama’s staying power and resolution as commander in chief.

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The War in Afghanistan: Where We Are Now

We have reached a key juncture in the Afghanistan war. Generals David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal have spent the last year getting the right “inputs” in place, meaning getting the structures right, putting the best leaders in charge, developing the right concepts, providing the authority and resources necessary, and so forth. We are now at the very early stages of the “output” phase, with a counterinsurgency (COIN) offensive in Helmand province that began in February and a forthcoming offensive in Kandahar. This campaign will unfold over the next 18 months or so and will go a long way toward determining the outcome of the war.

As we enter this new phase of the war — with, for the first time, a properly resourced counterinsurgency strategy in place — it’s important to understand the situation on the ground, including public sentiment, which is a crucial component of a successful COIN strategy.

A new report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), “Shaping the War in Afghanistan: The Situation in the Spring of 2010,” provides useful information, much of it culled from other recent reports and surveys (like the Department of Defense’s April report on progress toward security and stability in Afghanistan and an analysis of public opinion in Afghanistan conducted by ABC News, the BBC, and ARD).

Among the encouraging data points:

  • After steep declines in recent years there’s been a 30-point advance in views that the country is headed in the right direction; 70 percent now say so, the most since 2005. Afghans’ expectations that their own lives will be better a year from now have jumped by 20 points, to 71 percent, a new high. And there’s been a 14-point rise in expectations that the next generation will have a better life, to 61 percent.
  • Seventy (70) percent say living conditions are better now than they were under the Taliban.
  • Sixty-eight (68) percent of Afghans continue to support the presence of U.S. forces in their country – and nearly as many, 61 percent, favor the coming surge of Western troops initiated by President Obama.
  • There’s been a 14-point gain from last year, to 83 percent, in the view among Afghans that it was right for the United States to invade and overthrow the Taliban just more than eight years ago. And the number of Afghans who say attacking Western forces can be justified has dropped sharply, from 25 percent a year ago to 8 percent, a new low. (It jumps to 22 percent in the South – but that’s half of what it was there a year ago.)
  • President Karzai’s performance rating is only 40 percent in Helmand but 72 percent in the rest of the country – making him, by my count, more popular in Afghanistan than President Obama is in America.
  • Afghans confidence in their government reached a new high (since polling started in September 2008). Between September and March of 2009, Afghan confidence in the national administration increased by six percentage points to 45 percent, confidence in the provincial governor increased by five percentage points to 47 percent, and confidence in the district governors increased by six percentage points to 44 percent. When asked if the government was heading in the right direction, 59 percent of Afghans responded “yes.” This represents an increase of eight percent over the previous September 2009.
  • In March 2010, 30 percent of Afghans believed that the government was less corrupt than one year prior while 24 percent believed that it was more corrupt.

On the other side of the ledger:

  • Just 38 percent rate the work of the United States in Afghanistan positively – up 6 points in the past year, but far below its peak, 68 percent, in 2005. (NATO’s ratings are as low, and flat.) Fifty-one (51) percent have a favorable view of the United States overall – vastly below its high point, 83 percent, in 2005. And U.S. favorability drops to 35 percent in the East and 29 percent in the South (vs. 59 percent in the rest of the country) – again, plummeting where the United States is most actively engaged in combat.
  • Just 42 percent in the South and East support the presence of U.S. forces in their area, compared with 78 percent in the rest of the country.
  • More Afghans say the United States and NATO are doing worse, not better, in avoiding civilian casualties, by 43-24 percent. (This may reflect dismay over widely publicized individual incidents, such as the bombing of a pair of hijacked fuel tankers in September that killed scores of civilians in Kunduz province.
  • Nearly all Afghans – 95 percent – say official corruption is a problem in their area, up 23 points since 2007. Seventy-six (76) percent say it’s a big problem; both are new highs.
  • Only 29 percent of Afghans had a very good or good opinion of ISAF (International Security Assistance Force), with an additional 34 percent reporting a neutral rating.
  • We are focusing on 121 districts that have been deemed as critical to success. Of those 121, there are just 29 (24 percent) in which the population sympathizes with the Afghan government. While doubts about Afghan governance, writ large, doesn’t translate directly into support for the Taliban, which is still much-hated, it certainly doesn’t help matters. (In addition, the data for the 121 districts are not necessarily indicative of all of Afghanistan, especially given that they are the focus of the COIN campaign precisely because of the level of threats within them.)
  • Just 38 percent rate the work of the United States in Afghanistan positively – up 6 points in the past year, but far below its peak, 68 percent, in 2005. (NATO’s ratings are as low, and flat.) Fifty-one (51) percent have a favorable view of the United States overall – vastly below its high point, 83 percent, in 2005. And U.S. favorability drops to 35 percent in the East and 29 percent in the South (vs. 59 percent in the rest of the country) – again, plummeting where the United States is most actively engaged in combat.
  • Just 42 percent in the South and East support the presence of U.S. forces in their area, compared with 78 percent in the rest of the country.
  • More Afghans say the United States and NATO are doing worse, not better, in avoiding civilian casualties, by 43-24 percent. (This may reflect dismay over widely publicized individual incidents, such as the bombing of a pair of hijacked fuel tankers in September that killed scores of civilians in Kunduz province.)
  • Nearly all Afghans – 95 percent – say official corruption is a problem in their area, up 23 points since 2007. Seventy-six (76) percent say it’s a big problem; both are new highs.
  • Only 29 percent of Afghans had a very good or good opinion of ISAF (International Security Assistance Force), with an additional 34 percent reporting a neutral rating.
  • We are focusing on 121 districts that have been deemed as critical to success. Of those 121, there are just 29 (24 percent) in which the population sympathizes with the Afghan government. While doubts about Afghan governance, writ large, doesn’t translate directly into support for the Taliban, which is still much-hated, it certainly doesn’t help matters. (In addition, the data for the 121 districts are not necessarily indicative of all of Afghanistan, especially given that they are the focus of the COIN campaign precisely because of the level of threats within them.)

It’s quite a mixed picture, then — but since the beginning of 2009, a low-water mark, we’ve seen an increase in the performance ratings of the Afghan army, the Afghan government, Hamid Karzai, and the U.S. presence in Afghanistan.

The CSIS report also documents the rising intensity of the fighting, the increase in IED attacks, opium-poppy-cultivation trends, the growth in the (licit) GDP, and the growing strength of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police (the ANA has largely exceeded its recruiting goals between 2009 and 2010 and now includes more than 112,000 Afghans; the ANP now counts more than 102,000 Afghans in its ranks). And according to the most recent Department of Defense report, 52 percent of Afghans believe insurgents are the greatest source of insecurity, while only 1 percent believes the National Army/Police are primarily to blame. In the words of the DoD report: “This perception provides an opportunity for the Afghan Government, with the support of the international community, to improve its legitimacy and enhance popular perception of the government.”

In the end, increasing the legitimacy of the government will be key as to whether the war has a successful outcome. Nobody understands this better than David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal.

Stay tuned.

We have reached a key juncture in the Afghanistan war. Generals David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal have spent the last year getting the right “inputs” in place, meaning getting the structures right, putting the best leaders in charge, developing the right concepts, providing the authority and resources necessary, and so forth. We are now at the very early stages of the “output” phase, with a counterinsurgency (COIN) offensive in Helmand province that began in February and a forthcoming offensive in Kandahar. This campaign will unfold over the next 18 months or so and will go a long way toward determining the outcome of the war.

As we enter this new phase of the war — with, for the first time, a properly resourced counterinsurgency strategy in place — it’s important to understand the situation on the ground, including public sentiment, which is a crucial component of a successful COIN strategy.

A new report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), “Shaping the War in Afghanistan: The Situation in the Spring of 2010,” provides useful information, much of it culled from other recent reports and surveys (like the Department of Defense’s April report on progress toward security and stability in Afghanistan and an analysis of public opinion in Afghanistan conducted by ABC News, the BBC, and ARD).

Among the encouraging data points:

  • After steep declines in recent years there’s been a 30-point advance in views that the country is headed in the right direction; 70 percent now say so, the most since 2005. Afghans’ expectations that their own lives will be better a year from now have jumped by 20 points, to 71 percent, a new high. And there’s been a 14-point rise in expectations that the next generation will have a better life, to 61 percent.
  • Seventy (70) percent say living conditions are better now than they were under the Taliban.
  • Sixty-eight (68) percent of Afghans continue to support the presence of U.S. forces in their country – and nearly as many, 61 percent, favor the coming surge of Western troops initiated by President Obama.
  • There’s been a 14-point gain from last year, to 83 percent, in the view among Afghans that it was right for the United States to invade and overthrow the Taliban just more than eight years ago. And the number of Afghans who say attacking Western forces can be justified has dropped sharply, from 25 percent a year ago to 8 percent, a new low. (It jumps to 22 percent in the South – but that’s half of what it was there a year ago.)
  • President Karzai’s performance rating is only 40 percent in Helmand but 72 percent in the rest of the country – making him, by my count, more popular in Afghanistan than President Obama is in America.
  • Afghans confidence in their government reached a new high (since polling started in September 2008). Between September and March of 2009, Afghan confidence in the national administration increased by six percentage points to 45 percent, confidence in the provincial governor increased by five percentage points to 47 percent, and confidence in the district governors increased by six percentage points to 44 percent. When asked if the government was heading in the right direction, 59 percent of Afghans responded “yes.” This represents an increase of eight percent over the previous September 2009.
  • In March 2010, 30 percent of Afghans believed that the government was less corrupt than one year prior while 24 percent believed that it was more corrupt.

On the other side of the ledger:

  • Just 38 percent rate the work of the United States in Afghanistan positively – up 6 points in the past year, but far below its peak, 68 percent, in 2005. (NATO’s ratings are as low, and flat.) Fifty-one (51) percent have a favorable view of the United States overall – vastly below its high point, 83 percent, in 2005. And U.S. favorability drops to 35 percent in the East and 29 percent in the South (vs. 59 percent in the rest of the country) – again, plummeting where the United States is most actively engaged in combat.
  • Just 42 percent in the South and East support the presence of U.S. forces in their area, compared with 78 percent in the rest of the country.
  • More Afghans say the United States and NATO are doing worse, not better, in avoiding civilian casualties, by 43-24 percent. (This may reflect dismay over widely publicized individual incidents, such as the bombing of a pair of hijacked fuel tankers in September that killed scores of civilians in Kunduz province.
  • Nearly all Afghans – 95 percent – say official corruption is a problem in their area, up 23 points since 2007. Seventy-six (76) percent say it’s a big problem; both are new highs.
  • Only 29 percent of Afghans had a very good or good opinion of ISAF (International Security Assistance Force), with an additional 34 percent reporting a neutral rating.
  • We are focusing on 121 districts that have been deemed as critical to success. Of those 121, there are just 29 (24 percent) in which the population sympathizes with the Afghan government. While doubts about Afghan governance, writ large, doesn’t translate directly into support for the Taliban, which is still much-hated, it certainly doesn’t help matters. (In addition, the data for the 121 districts are not necessarily indicative of all of Afghanistan, especially given that they are the focus of the COIN campaign precisely because of the level of threats within them.)
  • Just 38 percent rate the work of the United States in Afghanistan positively – up 6 points in the past year, but far below its peak, 68 percent, in 2005. (NATO’s ratings are as low, and flat.) Fifty-one (51) percent have a favorable view of the United States overall – vastly below its high point, 83 percent, in 2005. And U.S. favorability drops to 35 percent in the East and 29 percent in the South (vs. 59 percent in the rest of the country) – again, plummeting where the United States is most actively engaged in combat.
  • Just 42 percent in the South and East support the presence of U.S. forces in their area, compared with 78 percent in the rest of the country.
  • More Afghans say the United States and NATO are doing worse, not better, in avoiding civilian casualties, by 43-24 percent. (This may reflect dismay over widely publicized individual incidents, such as the bombing of a pair of hijacked fuel tankers in September that killed scores of civilians in Kunduz province.)
  • Nearly all Afghans – 95 percent – say official corruption is a problem in their area, up 23 points since 2007. Seventy-six (76) percent say it’s a big problem; both are new highs.
  • Only 29 percent of Afghans had a very good or good opinion of ISAF (International Security Assistance Force), with an additional 34 percent reporting a neutral rating.
  • We are focusing on 121 districts that have been deemed as critical to success. Of those 121, there are just 29 (24 percent) in which the population sympathizes with the Afghan government. While doubts about Afghan governance, writ large, doesn’t translate directly into support for the Taliban, which is still much-hated, it certainly doesn’t help matters. (In addition, the data for the 121 districts are not necessarily indicative of all of Afghanistan, especially given that they are the focus of the COIN campaign precisely because of the level of threats within them.)

It’s quite a mixed picture, then — but since the beginning of 2009, a low-water mark, we’ve seen an increase in the performance ratings of the Afghan army, the Afghan government, Hamid Karzai, and the U.S. presence in Afghanistan.

The CSIS report also documents the rising intensity of the fighting, the increase in IED attacks, opium-poppy-cultivation trends, the growth in the (licit) GDP, and the growing strength of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police (the ANA has largely exceeded its recruiting goals between 2009 and 2010 and now includes more than 112,000 Afghans; the ANP now counts more than 102,000 Afghans in its ranks). And according to the most recent Department of Defense report, 52 percent of Afghans believe insurgents are the greatest source of insecurity, while only 1 percent believes the National Army/Police are primarily to blame. In the words of the DoD report: “This perception provides an opportunity for the Afghan Government, with the support of the international community, to improve its legitimacy and enhance popular perception of the government.”

In the end, increasing the legitimacy of the government will be key as to whether the war has a successful outcome. Nobody understands this better than David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal.

Stay tuned.

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Rare Praise for Andrew Sullivan

I don’t often give props these days to Andrew Sullivan, but give credit where it’s due: Andrew is willing to (tacitly) concede error. After accusing me of “glossing over” General Petraeus’s supposed criticisms of Israel, he now links to my Commentary item and to an item I had linked to by Philip Klein of the American Spectator explicating Petraeus’s actual, even-handed position — in the general’s own words. Andrew quotes another commentator acknowledging, “There really does seem to be not very much to the story about Petraeus,” and says the point is well taken.

True, Andrew does make a weak attempt to salvage something out of a story that has not gone his way:

Nonetheless, the paper Petraeus presented made a clear distinction between American interests and Israeli interests in the wider war on Jihadist terrorism. Until recently, Washington polite opinion could not publicly concede that. Now it’s taken for granted.

Whatever. I don’t think even the most rabid pro-Israel partisan would argue that American and Israeli interests are 100 percent the same. For instance, the U.S. had a major interest in toppling Saddam Hussein, whereas most Israelis didn’t care much whether he stayed in power or not. (Putting the lie, incidentally, to the risible Walt-Mearsheimer claims that the Zionist Lobby was behind the Iraq War.)

But in the present instance, Andrew is a model of intellectual honesty compared to Diana West and her acolytes on the extreme Right who continue to fulminate against Petraeus (and me) — see, e.g., this and this – posts that display, as usual with this crowd, an utter disregard for basic facts and the conventions of rational debate. Ironically, after suggesting that Petraeus is an “Islamic tool” and that General Stanley McChrystal is “a zealot” and “a high priest of the multicultural orthodoxy,” La West accuses me of engaging in “ad hominem attacks.” Pot, kettle.

I’ve probably given West and her ilk more attention than they deserve because their work is so utterly inconsequential and uninfluential. But I do believe there is a duty to police one’s own ideological precincts, and because West & Co. claim to be conservatives, I think it is important for conservatives to condemn their extremist rhetoric — as has previously happened with Pat Buchanan, Joe Sobran, and other right-wing embarrassments.

I don’t often give props these days to Andrew Sullivan, but give credit where it’s due: Andrew is willing to (tacitly) concede error. After accusing me of “glossing over” General Petraeus’s supposed criticisms of Israel, he now links to my Commentary item and to an item I had linked to by Philip Klein of the American Spectator explicating Petraeus’s actual, even-handed position — in the general’s own words. Andrew quotes another commentator acknowledging, “There really does seem to be not very much to the story about Petraeus,” and says the point is well taken.

True, Andrew does make a weak attempt to salvage something out of a story that has not gone his way:

Nonetheless, the paper Petraeus presented made a clear distinction between American interests and Israeli interests in the wider war on Jihadist terrorism. Until recently, Washington polite opinion could not publicly concede that. Now it’s taken for granted.

Whatever. I don’t think even the most rabid pro-Israel partisan would argue that American and Israeli interests are 100 percent the same. For instance, the U.S. had a major interest in toppling Saddam Hussein, whereas most Israelis didn’t care much whether he stayed in power or not. (Putting the lie, incidentally, to the risible Walt-Mearsheimer claims that the Zionist Lobby was behind the Iraq War.)

But in the present instance, Andrew is a model of intellectual honesty compared to Diana West and her acolytes on the extreme Right who continue to fulminate against Petraeus (and me) — see, e.g., this and this – posts that display, as usual with this crowd, an utter disregard for basic facts and the conventions of rational debate. Ironically, after suggesting that Petraeus is an “Islamic tool” and that General Stanley McChrystal is “a zealot” and “a high priest of the multicultural orthodoxy,” La West accuses me of engaging in “ad hominem attacks.” Pot, kettle.

I’ve probably given West and her ilk more attention than they deserve because their work is so utterly inconsequential and uninfluential. But I do believe there is a duty to police one’s own ideological precincts, and because West & Co. claim to be conservatives, I think it is important for conservatives to condemn their extremist rhetoric — as has previously happened with Pat Buchanan, Joe Sobran, and other right-wing embarrassments.

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I Make No Apology, Ms. West

I received the following e-mail today from columnist Diana West demanding a correction:

You wrote:

Diana West added a truly inventive spin, by suggesting that Petraeus was a protégé of Stephen Walt, who was his faculty adviser many years ago at Princeton before the good professor won renown as a leading basher of the “Israel Lobby” and the state of Israel itself. It was from Walt, Ms. West claims, that Petraeus imbibed his “Arabist, anti-Israel attitudes.”

Max,
There is ZERO evidence for this distortion of my analysis as “inventive spin” — namely:
“It was from Walt, Ms. West claims, that Petraeus imbibed his `Arabist, anti-Israel attitudes.’ ”
Please reread my post with care. You will see this claim does not exist. Please write a correction so that your readers are not misled.

Sincerely,
Diana West

Zero — excuse me, “ZERO” — evidence? Here is what La West actually wrote:

It is up to Petraeus to refute the Arabist, anti-Israel attitudes now far and widely attributed to him by media now taking his words, written and spoken and reported on, at face value if they are truly incorrect. Personally, I’m not holding my breath. The fact is, assuaging “Arab anger” is, when you think of it, is the very heart of “hearts and minds” current counterinsurgency doctrine (COIN) — and Petraeus wrote the book.

He also wrote a Ph. D. thesis at Princeton in 1987 called “The American military and the Lessons of Vietnam: A Study of Military Influence and the Use of Force in the Post-Vietnam Era” (available here).
One of his two faculty advisors, it is interesting to note in light of this recent debate was… Stephen Walt — of Walt and Mearshimer infamy.

In another blog item, she wrote, “It sounded as if Gen. Petraeus were chanelling Walt (if not Mearshimer) in his Senate testimony when he invoked the Arabist narrative regarding the ‘conflict’ between Israelis and Palestinians.”

I leave it to readers to decide whether my supposition — that West was blaming Stephen Walt for Petraeus’s supposed views — is unwarranted.

For my part, I await West’s correction and apology for the numerous calumnies she has lodged against the most distinguished American military commander since Eisenhower. Her accusations that Petraeus holds “Arabist, anti-Israel attitudes” are without foundation — but hardly without precedent in her overheated writing. In the past, she has asked of this soldier who, more than anyone else, is responsible for defeating Islamist extremists in Iraq: “Is Petraeus an Islamic Tool?” In Part II of this post, she wrote in what is presumably her idea of jest:

Here’s a plan Gen. Petraeus should be able to get behind: A new battle strategy, maybe a Kilcullen special, for him to join forces with Iran to once and for all nuke Israel and its genocidal apartment houses out of existence. That, according to his own lights, is sure to keep American troops safe in Iraq and Afghanistan.

She made equally wild and specious accusations against General Stanley McChrystal, another of our most respected commanders who, as head of the Joint Special Operations Command, sent too many jihadists to count to meet their 72 virgins. (Wonder how many jihadists Diana West has eliminated by comparison?) She writes, again with zero — sorry, “ZERO” — evidence, that McChrystal is “zealot and “a high priest of the politically correct orthodoxy,” that his views on counterinsurgency are “despicable,” and that he should be fired for “throwing away [his] men’s lives in a misguided infidel effort to win the ‘trust’ of a primitive Islamic people.”

Those are truly disgusting charges to lodge against such distinguished soldiers who have repeatedly risked their lives to defend our nation. They recall, in fact, the widely condemned Moveon.org advertisement that called Petraeus “General Betray-Us.” Her writing suggests that some of the more extreme precincts of the Right are copying the worst excesses of the Left.

I received the following e-mail today from columnist Diana West demanding a correction:

You wrote:

Diana West added a truly inventive spin, by suggesting that Petraeus was a protégé of Stephen Walt, who was his faculty adviser many years ago at Princeton before the good professor won renown as a leading basher of the “Israel Lobby” and the state of Israel itself. It was from Walt, Ms. West claims, that Petraeus imbibed his “Arabist, anti-Israel attitudes.”

Max,
There is ZERO evidence for this distortion of my analysis as “inventive spin” — namely:
“It was from Walt, Ms. West claims, that Petraeus imbibed his `Arabist, anti-Israel attitudes.’ ”
Please reread my post with care. You will see this claim does not exist. Please write a correction so that your readers are not misled.

Sincerely,
Diana West

Zero — excuse me, “ZERO” — evidence? Here is what La West actually wrote:

It is up to Petraeus to refute the Arabist, anti-Israel attitudes now far and widely attributed to him by media now taking his words, written and spoken and reported on, at face value if they are truly incorrect. Personally, I’m not holding my breath. The fact is, assuaging “Arab anger” is, when you think of it, is the very heart of “hearts and minds” current counterinsurgency doctrine (COIN) — and Petraeus wrote the book.

He also wrote a Ph. D. thesis at Princeton in 1987 called “The American military and the Lessons of Vietnam: A Study of Military Influence and the Use of Force in the Post-Vietnam Era” (available here).
One of his two faculty advisors, it is interesting to note in light of this recent debate was… Stephen Walt — of Walt and Mearshimer infamy.

In another blog item, she wrote, “It sounded as if Gen. Petraeus were chanelling Walt (if not Mearshimer) in his Senate testimony when he invoked the Arabist narrative regarding the ‘conflict’ between Israelis and Palestinians.”

I leave it to readers to decide whether my supposition — that West was blaming Stephen Walt for Petraeus’s supposed views — is unwarranted.

For my part, I await West’s correction and apology for the numerous calumnies she has lodged against the most distinguished American military commander since Eisenhower. Her accusations that Petraeus holds “Arabist, anti-Israel attitudes” are without foundation — but hardly without precedent in her overheated writing. In the past, she has asked of this soldier who, more than anyone else, is responsible for defeating Islamist extremists in Iraq: “Is Petraeus an Islamic Tool?” In Part II of this post, she wrote in what is presumably her idea of jest:

Here’s a plan Gen. Petraeus should be able to get behind: A new battle strategy, maybe a Kilcullen special, for him to join forces with Iran to once and for all nuke Israel and its genocidal apartment houses out of existence. That, according to his own lights, is sure to keep American troops safe in Iraq and Afghanistan.

She made equally wild and specious accusations against General Stanley McChrystal, another of our most respected commanders who, as head of the Joint Special Operations Command, sent too many jihadists to count to meet their 72 virgins. (Wonder how many jihadists Diana West has eliminated by comparison?) She writes, again with zero — sorry, “ZERO” — evidence, that McChrystal is “zealot and “a high priest of the politically correct orthodoxy,” that his views on counterinsurgency are “despicable,” and that he should be fired for “throwing away [his] men’s lives in a misguided infidel effort to win the ‘trust’ of a primitive Islamic people.”

Those are truly disgusting charges to lodge against such distinguished soldiers who have repeatedly risked their lives to defend our nation. They recall, in fact, the widely condemned Moveon.org advertisement that called Petraeus “General Betray-Us.” Her writing suggests that some of the more extreme precincts of the Right are copying the worst excesses of the Left.

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Progress in Marjah

The news from Marjah is pretty positive. The best overview I’ve seen was provided in this transcript of a briefing given a few days ago by Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, the Marine commander in the Helmand province. He noted:

On day three we had 36 TICs, or troops in contact.  Seemingly, everywhere in Marja, we had Marines in direct- fire contact.  We have now not had direct fire in Marja in the last eight days.  So I think we’re — while we still continue to find IEDs, I think we’re very pleased with how things have settled down…. I can tell you, though, that I went to a school this morning in Marja.  There hadn’t been schools open in Marja in many years, so the fact that we now had 107 kids at the class I attended in — near city center, was pretty significant.

As for the Afghan army’s performance, he said they are “grading out here pretty well,” even if they are hardly “in the lead” as some overeager spinners in Kabul have claimed:

Some units are veteran units that we brought in from outside the AO and have done exceptionally well.  We have an Afghan battalion that for all intensive purposes has operated independently since the very beginning of the op.

We have some newer Afghan units that we have to partner with very closely.  Really they’re just out of recruit training.  So I think there’s a wide variety of the Afghan army experience here in Marja, but I can tell you that I am exceptionally proud of their great service.  These guys run to the sound of gunfire….You know, Marines don’t search any of the homes.  In an area this large, when you decide you’ve got to search a home, the guys going in are going to be Afghan soldiers.  And they’ve done that very well; they’ve earned the trust and confidence of the Marines.

The best news of all, though, is that Hamid Karzai has now visited Marjah to meet with local residents — something that had not happened after previous combat operations. Granted, he was accompanied by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who no doubt had to drag Karzai onto the helicopter, kicking and screaming, but still, this is a vast improvement. It shows some progress in McChrystal’s campaign to turn Karzai into a wartime leader who takes responsibility for security operations, even those conducted primarily by NATO forces, such as the Marjah offensive was.

None of this is to deny the obvious — that major challenges remain. Those include figuring out whether the district governor of Marjah can be effective despite reports of his having a criminal record in Germany. But overall Marjah has not proved to be nearly as tough as Fallujah. There is more hard fighting to come, especially in the summer, but it appears as though NATO forces are finally gaining all-critical momentum on the ground.

The news from Marjah is pretty positive. The best overview I’ve seen was provided in this transcript of a briefing given a few days ago by Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, the Marine commander in the Helmand province. He noted:

On day three we had 36 TICs, or troops in contact.  Seemingly, everywhere in Marja, we had Marines in direct- fire contact.  We have now not had direct fire in Marja in the last eight days.  So I think we’re — while we still continue to find IEDs, I think we’re very pleased with how things have settled down…. I can tell you, though, that I went to a school this morning in Marja.  There hadn’t been schools open in Marja in many years, so the fact that we now had 107 kids at the class I attended in — near city center, was pretty significant.

As for the Afghan army’s performance, he said they are “grading out here pretty well,” even if they are hardly “in the lead” as some overeager spinners in Kabul have claimed:

Some units are veteran units that we brought in from outside the AO and have done exceptionally well.  We have an Afghan battalion that for all intensive purposes has operated independently since the very beginning of the op.

We have some newer Afghan units that we have to partner with very closely.  Really they’re just out of recruit training.  So I think there’s a wide variety of the Afghan army experience here in Marja, but I can tell you that I am exceptionally proud of their great service.  These guys run to the sound of gunfire….You know, Marines don’t search any of the homes.  In an area this large, when you decide you’ve got to search a home, the guys going in are going to be Afghan soldiers.  And they’ve done that very well; they’ve earned the trust and confidence of the Marines.

The best news of all, though, is that Hamid Karzai has now visited Marjah to meet with local residents — something that had not happened after previous combat operations. Granted, he was accompanied by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who no doubt had to drag Karzai onto the helicopter, kicking and screaming, but still, this is a vast improvement. It shows some progress in McChrystal’s campaign to turn Karzai into a wartime leader who takes responsibility for security operations, even those conducted primarily by NATO forces, such as the Marjah offensive was.

None of this is to deny the obvious — that major challenges remain. Those include figuring out whether the district governor of Marjah can be effective despite reports of his having a criminal record in Germany. But overall Marjah has not proved to be nearly as tough as Fallujah. There is more hard fighting to come, especially in the summer, but it appears as though NATO forces are finally gaining all-critical momentum on the ground.

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How NOT to Wage a Counterinsurgency

As part of the research for my book on the history of guerrilla warfare, I have recently — and belatedly — read Street Without Joy by Bernard Fall. Originally published in 1961, this is considered a classic account of the French Indochina War written by a Jewish journalist-historian who was born in Austria, moved to France as a child, fought with the French Resistance after losing his parents to the Nazis, and later emigrated to the United States.

Fall was, by all accounts, a sterling individual who had great insight into Vietnam; he was an early skeptic about the American war effort. Street Without Joy was disappointing, however. I found it pretty disjointed, a mix of history and memoir that never quite jelled. That said, it does offer some interesting perspectives on how counterinsurgency á la française worked. He recounts, for instance, what happened when a transport aircraft on which he was flying took some flak from a Viet Minh anti-aircraft battery. Two French fighters immediately swooped down to deal with the ground fire. On his headset, Fall could overhear one of the pilots saying to the other that he had spotted a village:

“Can’t see a darn thing. Do you see anything?”

“Can’t see anything either, but let’s give it to them just for good measure.”

Another swoop by the two little birds and all of a sudden a big black billow behind them. It was napalm–jellied gasoline, one of the nicer horrors developed in World War II. It beats the conventional incendiaries by the fact that it sticks so much better to everything it touches.

“Ah, see the bastards run now?”

Now the village was burning furiously. The two fighters swooped down in turn and raked the area with machine guns. … Scratch one Lao village–and we didn’t even know whether the village was pro-Communist or not.”

I would guess if that village wasn’t pro-Communist before this napalm attack, it would have been pro-Communist after. No wonder the French couldn’t win in Vietnam or Algeria. This wasn’t the whole story, but certainly one of the crucial factors was that they were so indiscriminate in causing civilian casualties.

That’s a lesson that General Stanley McChrystal has taken to heart. That’s why he has imposed such restrictive rules for the use of airpower in Afghanistan — rules for which he has been criticized by some who would no doubt like our aircraft to indiscriminately napalm villages. After all, that strategy worked great for the French, didn’t it?

As part of the research for my book on the history of guerrilla warfare, I have recently — and belatedly — read Street Without Joy by Bernard Fall. Originally published in 1961, this is considered a classic account of the French Indochina War written by a Jewish journalist-historian who was born in Austria, moved to France as a child, fought with the French Resistance after losing his parents to the Nazis, and later emigrated to the United States.

Fall was, by all accounts, a sterling individual who had great insight into Vietnam; he was an early skeptic about the American war effort. Street Without Joy was disappointing, however. I found it pretty disjointed, a mix of history and memoir that never quite jelled. That said, it does offer some interesting perspectives on how counterinsurgency á la française worked. He recounts, for instance, what happened when a transport aircraft on which he was flying took some flak from a Viet Minh anti-aircraft battery. Two French fighters immediately swooped down to deal with the ground fire. On his headset, Fall could overhear one of the pilots saying to the other that he had spotted a village:

“Can’t see a darn thing. Do you see anything?”

“Can’t see anything either, but let’s give it to them just for good measure.”

Another swoop by the two little birds and all of a sudden a big black billow behind them. It was napalm–jellied gasoline, one of the nicer horrors developed in World War II. It beats the conventional incendiaries by the fact that it sticks so much better to everything it touches.

“Ah, see the bastards run now?”

Now the village was burning furiously. The two fighters swooped down in turn and raked the area with machine guns. … Scratch one Lao village–and we didn’t even know whether the village was pro-Communist or not.”

I would guess if that village wasn’t pro-Communist before this napalm attack, it would have been pro-Communist after. No wonder the French couldn’t win in Vietnam or Algeria. This wasn’t the whole story, but certainly one of the crucial factors was that they were so indiscriminate in causing civilian casualties.

That’s a lesson that General Stanley McChrystal has taken to heart. That’s why he has imposed such restrictive rules for the use of airpower in Afghanistan — rules for which he has been criticized by some who would no doubt like our aircraft to indiscriminately napalm villages. After all, that strategy worked great for the French, didn’t it?

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Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s Rules of Engagement Make Sense

Andrew Exum, a former U.S. Army officer who now blogs at Abu Muqawama, has a good piece explaining why Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s rules of engagement, designed to minimize civilian casualties, make sense. Those rules have been questioned by a few soldiers, parents of soldiers, and, also, right-wing pundits. He points out (as I have in the past) that “Gen. McChrystal had grown convinced that Afghan civilian casualties were taking an immense toll on the NATO mission in Afghanistan.” He explains:

This was not the conclusion of a scholar who had studied war from the comforts of a library, but rather the words of a student-practitioner of combat who had seen everything else in Afghanistan tried and fail. By 2006, when Gen. McChrystal gave up command of the U.S. military’s most elite Special Operations task force, his units were killing the enemy at a cyclical rate — as fast as they possibly could — and it was not making a difference. A friend of mine likes to say that you cannot kill your way to victory in counterinsurgency campaigns, and that is precisely what Gen. McChrystal learned at the helm of the Joint Special Operations Command.

That is something that McChrystal’s critics still do not seem to have learned.

Andrew Exum, a former U.S. Army officer who now blogs at Abu Muqawama, has a good piece explaining why Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s rules of engagement, designed to minimize civilian casualties, make sense. Those rules have been questioned by a few soldiers, parents of soldiers, and, also, right-wing pundits. He points out (as I have in the past) that “Gen. McChrystal had grown convinced that Afghan civilian casualties were taking an immense toll on the NATO mission in Afghanistan.” He explains:

This was not the conclusion of a scholar who had studied war from the comforts of a library, but rather the words of a student-practitioner of combat who had seen everything else in Afghanistan tried and fail. By 2006, when Gen. McChrystal gave up command of the U.S. military’s most elite Special Operations task force, his units were killing the enemy at a cyclical rate — as fast as they possibly could — and it was not making a difference. A friend of mine likes to say that you cannot kill your way to victory in counterinsurgency campaigns, and that is precisely what Gen. McChrystal learned at the helm of the Joint Special Operations Command.

That is something that McChrystal’s critics still do not seem to have learned.

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Realities of War

Sigh. I feel like I’m playing whack-a-mole with the argument that General Stanley McChrystal has promulgated rules of engagement that place our troops at needless risk. As I soon as I take a whack at the argument in one place — most recently in a New York Times op-ed by someone named Lara Dadkhah — it appears somewhere else. The most recent incarnation is this article by Nolan Finley, editorial editor of the Detroit News. He offers a particularly over-the-top and un-nuanced version of the argument articulated by a few other conservatives:

Every American soldier should be pulled out of Afghanistan today. It’s immoral to commit our troops — our children — to a war without doing everything possible to protect their lives.

That’s not happening in Afghanistan.

The politicians and generals have decided to make the safety of Afghan citizens a higher priority than avoiding American deaths and injuries.

Where to start? Perhaps with the observation that war involves risk. You cannot win a war without putting your troops in harm’s way. Finley writes with approval: “Harry Truman rained down hellfire on Japan’s civilian population to spare the lives of a half-million allied troops.” That’s true, but U.S. troops also suffered huge casualties in WWII — unimaginable by today’s standards — in missions like storming heavily defended Pacific islands and bombing heavily defended German cities. Their commanders sent men toward almost certain death or injury because they knew there was no alternative. McChrystal is guided by the same realization in Afghanistan.

The only way to win in a counterinsurgency — or just about any other war, for that matter — is to send infantrymen with rifles to occupy the enemy’s strongholds. In Afghanistan, those strongholds are among the population. That’s where our troops need to go. In the process of driving the insurgents out of the population centers, it is strategically smart to minimize civilian casualties because that will help us to win the allegiance of the wavering population. That is not an untested theory; it is the reality of successful counterinsurgency campaigns from Malaya to Iraq.

And, yes, our troops will be placed at risk in the process of protecting the population and defeating the insurgents. There is no other way to achieve our goals. In Iraq from 2003 to 2007, we tried the alternative approach of putting our troops into giant Forward Operating Bases and employing copious firepower. Because this strategy failed to defeat the insurgency, it actually resulted in more American casualties. Conversely the surge strategy of 2007, which placed our troops in more exposed Combat Outposts and Joint Security Stations in Iraqi neighborhoods, incurred more casualties in the short run but saved American (and Iraqi) lives in the long run by actually pacifying Iraq. That strategy is also our best bet in Afghanistan. That’s something that Gen. McChrystal realizes and that Stateside naysayers fail to grasp.

Sigh. I feel like I’m playing whack-a-mole with the argument that General Stanley McChrystal has promulgated rules of engagement that place our troops at needless risk. As I soon as I take a whack at the argument in one place — most recently in a New York Times op-ed by someone named Lara Dadkhah — it appears somewhere else. The most recent incarnation is this article by Nolan Finley, editorial editor of the Detroit News. He offers a particularly over-the-top and un-nuanced version of the argument articulated by a few other conservatives:

Every American soldier should be pulled out of Afghanistan today. It’s immoral to commit our troops — our children — to a war without doing everything possible to protect their lives.

That’s not happening in Afghanistan.

The politicians and generals have decided to make the safety of Afghan citizens a higher priority than avoiding American deaths and injuries.

Where to start? Perhaps with the observation that war involves risk. You cannot win a war without putting your troops in harm’s way. Finley writes with approval: “Harry Truman rained down hellfire on Japan’s civilian population to spare the lives of a half-million allied troops.” That’s true, but U.S. troops also suffered huge casualties in WWII — unimaginable by today’s standards — in missions like storming heavily defended Pacific islands and bombing heavily defended German cities. Their commanders sent men toward almost certain death or injury because they knew there was no alternative. McChrystal is guided by the same realization in Afghanistan.

The only way to win in a counterinsurgency — or just about any other war, for that matter — is to send infantrymen with rifles to occupy the enemy’s strongholds. In Afghanistan, those strongholds are among the population. That’s where our troops need to go. In the process of driving the insurgents out of the population centers, it is strategically smart to minimize civilian casualties because that will help us to win the allegiance of the wavering population. That is not an untested theory; it is the reality of successful counterinsurgency campaigns from Malaya to Iraq.

And, yes, our troops will be placed at risk in the process of protecting the population and defeating the insurgents. There is no other way to achieve our goals. In Iraq from 2003 to 2007, we tried the alternative approach of putting our troops into giant Forward Operating Bases and employing copious firepower. Because this strategy failed to defeat the insurgency, it actually resulted in more American casualties. Conversely the surge strategy of 2007, which placed our troops in more exposed Combat Outposts and Joint Security Stations in Iraqi neighborhoods, incurred more casualties in the short run but saved American (and Iraqi) lives in the long run by actually pacifying Iraq. That strategy is also our best bet in Afghanistan. That’s something that Gen. McChrystal realizes and that Stateside naysayers fail to grasp.

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Mishandling Karzai

Not the least of the innovations that Gen. Stanley McChrystal has introduced is changing how the U.S. interacts with Hamid Karzai. The Obama team came into office bashing the president of Afghanistan without lining up a solid alternative. The predictable result: a key ally has been alienated for no good reason. Now McChrystal is working to shore up Karzai’s authority and especially his credentials as a wartime leader.

This Wall Street Journal article shows how McChrystal was careful to brief Karzai on plans for the offensive into Marjah and to get his sign-off before the launching of operations. As the Journal notes:

For both the Americans and the Afghans, who have been fighting together for more than eight years, it was a novel moment. As Mr. Karzai said after being roused from a nap: “No one has ever asked me to decide before.”

This attempt to bolster Karzai and involve him more in NATO decision-making seems a much more productive way to deal with him than the previous approach of scolding him in public. It is just possible that Karzai can undergo a transformation similar to that of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq, who established himself as a strong leader in 2008 by becoming the public face of military operations against Sadrist insurgents.

Not the least of the innovations that Gen. Stanley McChrystal has introduced is changing how the U.S. interacts with Hamid Karzai. The Obama team came into office bashing the president of Afghanistan without lining up a solid alternative. The predictable result: a key ally has been alienated for no good reason. Now McChrystal is working to shore up Karzai’s authority and especially his credentials as a wartime leader.

This Wall Street Journal article shows how McChrystal was careful to brief Karzai on plans for the offensive into Marjah and to get his sign-off before the launching of operations. As the Journal notes:

For both the Americans and the Afghans, who have been fighting together for more than eight years, it was a novel moment. As Mr. Karzai said after being roused from a nap: “No one has ever asked me to decide before.”

This attempt to bolster Karzai and involve him more in NATO decision-making seems a much more productive way to deal with him than the previous approach of scolding him in public. It is just possible that Karzai can undergo a transformation similar to that of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq, who established himself as a strong leader in 2008 by becoming the public face of military operations against Sadrist insurgents.

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Times Off-Base on U.S. Airpower in Afghanistan

The New York Times has run a curious op-ed by a writer I’ve never heard of: Lara M. Dadkhah, who is identified simply as an “intelligence analyst” for some unnamed defense consulting firm and also apparently a current or recent grad student at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service (h/t Glenn Greenwald). In it, she repeats the standard canard heard from a handful of right-wingers who accuse Gen. Stanley McChrystal of putting his troops at undue risk by limiting their use of airpower.

This is a serious charge to make against one of the most respected generals in the Army, and one who has been closely associated with some of the most dangerous and risky special operations that the military carries out. Anyone who flings around this accusation better have some good evidence. But Dadkhah seriously undercuts her case with sweeping overgeneralizations.

She claims, for instance, that “air support to American and Afghan forces has been all but grounded by concerns about civilian casualties” and that “American and NATO military leaders — worried by Taliban propaganda claiming that air strikes have killed an inordinate number of civilians, and persuaded by ‘hearts and minds’ enthusiasts that the key to winning the war is the Afghan population’s goodwill — have largely relinquished the strategic advantage of American air dominance.”

In the first place, she entirely neglects one of the key “strategic advantages of American air dominance” — namely, the ability to conduct surveillance and reconnaissance of the battlefield, which gives troops on the ground a huge advantage in terms of knowing where their enemies are. Other advantages of airpower that she neglects to mention are the ability to do aerial resupply and medivac. All three are vital to the conduct of operations, in fact probably more vital than the ability to call in air strikes. But even if you stick to kinetic strikes from the air, her evidence is weak. She writes:

While the number of American forces in Afghanistan has more than doubled since 2008, to nearly 70,000 today, the critical air support they get has not kept pace. According to my analysis of data compiled by the United States military, close air support sorties, which in Afghanistan are almost always unplanned and in aid of troops on the ground who are under intense fire, increased by just 27 percent during that same period

Even granting that those figures are accurate, what makes her think that they are the result of directives designed to limit air strikes? Might it not simply be a case of the troop presence growing faster than the number of aircraft they have available to support them? U.S. forces in Afghanistan have long been under-resourced in terms of air support simply because there were not enough aircraft to go around, and until last year Iraq had top priority. That is changing, but it is taking a while to build up Afghanistan’s primitive infrastructure to create runways and other facilities that can support a large number of aircraft. The task is all the more daunting because Afghanistan is much more spread out than Iraq, so aircraft have to be based all over the country to be available on-call within a few minutes of the start of a firefight. In fact, Dadkhah’s own figures suggest that there has been only a modest decline in the number of air strikes called in: “Pentagon data show that the percentage of sorties sent out that resulted in air strikes has also declined, albeit modestly, to 5.6 percent from 6 percent.”

Dadkhah is even more off-base when she denies the obvious: that sometimes excessive force can be harmful to mission accomplishment in a counterinsurgency. She writes: “So in a modern refashioning of the obvious — that war is harmful to civilian populations — the United States military has begun basing doctrine on the premise that dead civilians are harmful to the conduct of war. The trouble is, no past war has ever supplied compelling proof of that claim. ” No compelling data? Really? Perhaps she might examine the case of the Red Army in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The Soviets killed hundreds of thousands of Afghans and in the process lost the war by turning the population against them. That is a mistake that McChrystal is wise not to repeat.

The New York Times has run a curious op-ed by a writer I’ve never heard of: Lara M. Dadkhah, who is identified simply as an “intelligence analyst” for some unnamed defense consulting firm and also apparently a current or recent grad student at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service (h/t Glenn Greenwald). In it, she repeats the standard canard heard from a handful of right-wingers who accuse Gen. Stanley McChrystal of putting his troops at undue risk by limiting their use of airpower.

This is a serious charge to make against one of the most respected generals in the Army, and one who has been closely associated with some of the most dangerous and risky special operations that the military carries out. Anyone who flings around this accusation better have some good evidence. But Dadkhah seriously undercuts her case with sweeping overgeneralizations.

She claims, for instance, that “air support to American and Afghan forces has been all but grounded by concerns about civilian casualties” and that “American and NATO military leaders — worried by Taliban propaganda claiming that air strikes have killed an inordinate number of civilians, and persuaded by ‘hearts and minds’ enthusiasts that the key to winning the war is the Afghan population’s goodwill — have largely relinquished the strategic advantage of American air dominance.”

In the first place, she entirely neglects one of the key “strategic advantages of American air dominance” — namely, the ability to conduct surveillance and reconnaissance of the battlefield, which gives troops on the ground a huge advantage in terms of knowing where their enemies are. Other advantages of airpower that she neglects to mention are the ability to do aerial resupply and medivac. All three are vital to the conduct of operations, in fact probably more vital than the ability to call in air strikes. But even if you stick to kinetic strikes from the air, her evidence is weak. She writes:

While the number of American forces in Afghanistan has more than doubled since 2008, to nearly 70,000 today, the critical air support they get has not kept pace. According to my analysis of data compiled by the United States military, close air support sorties, which in Afghanistan are almost always unplanned and in aid of troops on the ground who are under intense fire, increased by just 27 percent during that same period

Even granting that those figures are accurate, what makes her think that they are the result of directives designed to limit air strikes? Might it not simply be a case of the troop presence growing faster than the number of aircraft they have available to support them? U.S. forces in Afghanistan have long been under-resourced in terms of air support simply because there were not enough aircraft to go around, and until last year Iraq had top priority. That is changing, but it is taking a while to build up Afghanistan’s primitive infrastructure to create runways and other facilities that can support a large number of aircraft. The task is all the more daunting because Afghanistan is much more spread out than Iraq, so aircraft have to be based all over the country to be available on-call within a few minutes of the start of a firefight. In fact, Dadkhah’s own figures suggest that there has been only a modest decline in the number of air strikes called in: “Pentagon data show that the percentage of sorties sent out that resulted in air strikes has also declined, albeit modestly, to 5.6 percent from 6 percent.”

Dadkhah is even more off-base when she denies the obvious: that sometimes excessive force can be harmful to mission accomplishment in a counterinsurgency. She writes: “So in a modern refashioning of the obvious — that war is harmful to civilian populations — the United States military has begun basing doctrine on the premise that dead civilians are harmful to the conduct of war. The trouble is, no past war has ever supplied compelling proof of that claim. ” No compelling data? Really? Perhaps she might examine the case of the Red Army in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The Soviets killed hundreds of thousands of Afghans and in the process lost the war by turning the population against them. That is a mistake that McChrystal is wise not to repeat.

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Re: Charlie Wilson

Jonathan, I second everything you say. I’d only add that there is a vitally important lesson for our own times in the story of Charlie Wilson and Afghanistan. The movie about Wilson’s efforts ends with this line: “These things happened. They were glorious and they changed the world. Then we f****d up the endgame.”

Gen. Stanley McChrystal has more recently conveyed a similar sentiment in less colorful terms. “A strategy that does not leave Afghanistan in a stable position is probably a short-sighted strategy.”

The commander in chief’s thoughts on the matter? “I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home.”

How does that bode for the endgame issue? In twenty years, another book and movie can hit the market about how we changed the world by destroying the Islamist threat in Afghanistan only to see our efforts undone by a pre-set troop drawdown.

What decimated Afghanistan after the Soviets were pushed out was the lack of American follow-through. Charlie Wilson’s War is not a tragedy of misguided adventurism. It’s the story of heroic enterprise undermined by short-sightedness and political cowardice.

Jonathan, I second everything you say. I’d only add that there is a vitally important lesson for our own times in the story of Charlie Wilson and Afghanistan. The movie about Wilson’s efforts ends with this line: “These things happened. They were glorious and they changed the world. Then we f****d up the endgame.”

Gen. Stanley McChrystal has more recently conveyed a similar sentiment in less colorful terms. “A strategy that does not leave Afghanistan in a stable position is probably a short-sighted strategy.”

The commander in chief’s thoughts on the matter? “I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home.”

How does that bode for the endgame issue? In twenty years, another book and movie can hit the market about how we changed the world by destroying the Islamist threat in Afghanistan only to see our efforts undone by a pre-set troop drawdown.

What decimated Afghanistan after the Soviets were pushed out was the lack of American follow-through. Charlie Wilson’s War is not a tragedy of misguided adventurism. It’s the story of heroic enterprise undermined by short-sightedness and political cowardice.

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Afghanistan Strategy: Getting on the Same Page

One of the key relationships that made the surge work in Iraq in 2007 was the close partnership between General David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker. The two men put aside some personal and institutional prerogatives to work harmoniously together to implement a policy they both wholeheartedly believed in. A New York Times article  today suggests how far we are from this optimum situation in Afghanistan.

The Times runs the text of two cables by Karl Eikenberry, a former three-star general who is now the U.S. ambassador to Kabul, objecting to the counterinsurgency strategy advocated by General Stanley McChrystal, the four-star U.S. general and NATO commander. The existences of the memos had previously been reported in the fall, but their text indicates just how far apart the two men are — or at least were. Eikenberry indicates no confidence that a troop increase will make things better. Instead, he fears, it will only “increase Afghan dependency” — the same argument that was made by senior military and civilian commanders against increasing force levels in Iraq prior to 2007.

He is also damning about the leadership capacity of Hamid Karzai in ways that raise questions about whether he can work fruitfully with the Afghan president. He writes: “President Karzai is not an adequate strategic partner. … Karzai continues to shun responsibility for any sovereign burden, whether defense, governance or development. … It strains credulity to expect Karzai to change fundamentally this late in his life.”

Eikenberry makes some good points about the lack of funding for civilian efforts and the “inadequate civilian structure” to partner with military efforts. But then he bizarrely makes the claim that “a relatively small additional investment in programs for development and governance would yield results that, if not as visible as those from sending more troops, would move us closer to achieving our goals at far lesser cost and risk.” Yet nowhere does he explain how more development aid could accomplish so much given the lack of capacity on the part of the Afghan government and civilian aid agencies that he bemoans elsewhere in the memo. Nor does he explain how aid dollars could be spent productively in a climate of pervasive insecurity. No doubt that’s why President Obama essentially endorsed McChrystal’s recommendations over Eikenberry’s.

Leave aside the merit — or lack thereof — of Ambassador Eikenberry’s cables. The real issue is whether he functions effectively with McChrystal while holding views so much at odds with the general’s. I know that Eikenberry told Congress in December, while testifying on the Obama plan for Afghanistan: “I can say without equivocation that I fully support this approach.” But he has never said what elements of his previous analysis he believes are no longer valid. Therefore, his support for the policy looks more pro forma than genuine.

This is a very troubling situation that calls out for top-level resolution to make sure that somehow America’s senior civilian and military representatives in Kabul get on the same page — otherwise success will be harder to achieve than it needs to be.

One of the key relationships that made the surge work in Iraq in 2007 was the close partnership between General David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker. The two men put aside some personal and institutional prerogatives to work harmoniously together to implement a policy they both wholeheartedly believed in. A New York Times article  today suggests how far we are from this optimum situation in Afghanistan.

The Times runs the text of two cables by Karl Eikenberry, a former three-star general who is now the U.S. ambassador to Kabul, objecting to the counterinsurgency strategy advocated by General Stanley McChrystal, the four-star U.S. general and NATO commander. The existences of the memos had previously been reported in the fall, but their text indicates just how far apart the two men are — or at least were. Eikenberry indicates no confidence that a troop increase will make things better. Instead, he fears, it will only “increase Afghan dependency” — the same argument that was made by senior military and civilian commanders against increasing force levels in Iraq prior to 2007.

He is also damning about the leadership capacity of Hamid Karzai in ways that raise questions about whether he can work fruitfully with the Afghan president. He writes: “President Karzai is not an adequate strategic partner. … Karzai continues to shun responsibility for any sovereign burden, whether defense, governance or development. … It strains credulity to expect Karzai to change fundamentally this late in his life.”

Eikenberry makes some good points about the lack of funding for civilian efforts and the “inadequate civilian structure” to partner with military efforts. But then he bizarrely makes the claim that “a relatively small additional investment in programs for development and governance would yield results that, if not as visible as those from sending more troops, would move us closer to achieving our goals at far lesser cost and risk.” Yet nowhere does he explain how more development aid could accomplish so much given the lack of capacity on the part of the Afghan government and civilian aid agencies that he bemoans elsewhere in the memo. Nor does he explain how aid dollars could be spent productively in a climate of pervasive insecurity. No doubt that’s why President Obama essentially endorsed McChrystal’s recommendations over Eikenberry’s.

Leave aside the merit — or lack thereof — of Ambassador Eikenberry’s cables. The real issue is whether he functions effectively with McChrystal while holding views so much at odds with the general’s. I know that Eikenberry told Congress in December, while testifying on the Obama plan for Afghanistan: “I can say without equivocation that I fully support this approach.” But he has never said what elements of his previous analysis he believes are no longer valid. Therefore, his support for the policy looks more pro forma than genuine.

This is a very troubling situation that calls out for top-level resolution to make sure that somehow America’s senior civilian and military representatives in Kabul get on the same page — otherwise success will be harder to achieve than it needs to be.

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Fresh Buzz: Reintegration

A new political theme is slipping the surly bonds of caution this week, as negotiators prepare to converge on London for the upcoming conference on Afghanistan. Suddenly the word “reintegration” is on every tongue, and conferees affirm portentously that the solution in Afghanistan “must be political.” Lest the meaning of that be missed, Sweden’s venerable Carl Bildt offers this clarification: “There is no military solution.”

This is a straw man, of course; no one says there is a “military solution” for unifying and pacifying Afghanistan. But Defense Secretary Bob Gates and General Stanley McChrystal have been clear in the last week that military operations must be one of the tools used to achieve the long-term solution. The candidates for reintegration into Afghanistan’s polity are the Taliban, and among them are factions that have shown no sign at any time of being amenable to consensual negotiation or compromise. They attack civilians and military forces alike in their campaign to destabilize the central government in Kabul.

The Taliban’s record in the past month forms a striking contrast with the pace of reintegration being proposed in political circles. After killing nearly 100 people at a volleyball match in Pakistan and assassinating CIA agents at a base in Afghanistan, the Taliban killed 20 in a market bombing in central Afghanistan and killed seven and wounded 71 in coordinated attacks in downtown Kabul. These tallies don’t reflect smaller incidents in the AfPak theater during the same period, but they are in line with the UN’s report that 2009 was the Taliban’s bloodiest year since the regime change in 2001. Hamid Karzai’s reintegration policy for the Taliban has naturally been endorsed by President Obama and our NATO allies, but there is no evidence as yet — not even a photo op — of any material reciprocation from the insurgents.

European leaders nevertheless show signs of favoring reintegration measures like the ones outlined by Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid. In light of the Taliban’s unrelieved recalcitrance, adopting this list unilaterally would clearly be getting ahead of ourselves. It’s too early to talk about removing Taliban members from terror lists, or limiting Karzai’s latitude with a UN mandate for him to sit down with the insurgents. Gates and McChrystal have spoken consistently of using a multi-pronged approach, including military operations, to create the conditions for productive diplomacy — and those conditions don’t exist yet. Comments from both men have made it clear that their position has not changed, even though the media is portraying their endorsement of eventual negotiations somewhat misleadingly, as if they might be ready to dispense with the inconvenient labor of shaping conditions beforehand.

We haven’t heard much from Obama on this. We can hope that he concurs with his defense leadership, although there have been troubling indications of divergence in the definitions being used by the White House and the Pentagon. The Taliban are not even pretending to be potential negotiators; they’re giving the international coalition no excuse for deceiving itself about their intentions or openness to compromise. Obama should exercise the coalition leadership necessary to keep the effort in Afghanistan on track, and not let it lose its way in imprudent shortcuts.

A new political theme is slipping the surly bonds of caution this week, as negotiators prepare to converge on London for the upcoming conference on Afghanistan. Suddenly the word “reintegration” is on every tongue, and conferees affirm portentously that the solution in Afghanistan “must be political.” Lest the meaning of that be missed, Sweden’s venerable Carl Bildt offers this clarification: “There is no military solution.”

This is a straw man, of course; no one says there is a “military solution” for unifying and pacifying Afghanistan. But Defense Secretary Bob Gates and General Stanley McChrystal have been clear in the last week that military operations must be one of the tools used to achieve the long-term solution. The candidates for reintegration into Afghanistan’s polity are the Taliban, and among them are factions that have shown no sign at any time of being amenable to consensual negotiation or compromise. They attack civilians and military forces alike in their campaign to destabilize the central government in Kabul.

The Taliban’s record in the past month forms a striking contrast with the pace of reintegration being proposed in political circles. After killing nearly 100 people at a volleyball match in Pakistan and assassinating CIA agents at a base in Afghanistan, the Taliban killed 20 in a market bombing in central Afghanistan and killed seven and wounded 71 in coordinated attacks in downtown Kabul. These tallies don’t reflect smaller incidents in the AfPak theater during the same period, but they are in line with the UN’s report that 2009 was the Taliban’s bloodiest year since the regime change in 2001. Hamid Karzai’s reintegration policy for the Taliban has naturally been endorsed by President Obama and our NATO allies, but there is no evidence as yet — not even a photo op — of any material reciprocation from the insurgents.

European leaders nevertheless show signs of favoring reintegration measures like the ones outlined by Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid. In light of the Taliban’s unrelieved recalcitrance, adopting this list unilaterally would clearly be getting ahead of ourselves. It’s too early to talk about removing Taliban members from terror lists, or limiting Karzai’s latitude with a UN mandate for him to sit down with the insurgents. Gates and McChrystal have spoken consistently of using a multi-pronged approach, including military operations, to create the conditions for productive diplomacy — and those conditions don’t exist yet. Comments from both men have made it clear that their position has not changed, even though the media is portraying their endorsement of eventual negotiations somewhat misleadingly, as if they might be ready to dispense with the inconvenient labor of shaping conditions beforehand.

We haven’t heard much from Obama on this. We can hope that he concurs with his defense leadership, although there have been troubling indications of divergence in the definitions being used by the White House and the Pentagon. The Taliban are not even pretending to be potential negotiators; they’re giving the international coalition no excuse for deceiving itself about their intentions or openness to compromise. Obama should exercise the coalition leadership necessary to keep the effort in Afghanistan on track, and not let it lose its way in imprudent shortcuts.

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Michael Flynn’s Revelatory Report

One of the reasons I admire Gen. Stanley McChrystal and think he is the right commander to turn around the war effort in Afghanistan is that he is not afraid to be unconventional and effective even if, in so doing, he leaves a few colleagues with noses bent out of joint. And he has surrounded himself with similar hard chargers, including Major General Michael Flynn, his chief intelligence officer. Now Flynn has done something that has caused a minor earthquake in the Pentagon — he has written a scathing overview of the intelligence operations in Afghanistan not for internal distribution to a handful of top-secret addressees but rather to the whole world, via the Center for a New American Security in Washington.

His report, co-written with a DIA officer and a Marine captain (who was formerly a Wall Street Journal reporter), is a must-read for anyone who cares about the war in Afghanistan, the wider war on terror, or the subject of intelligence in general, much in the news these days.  It includes the kind of blunt talk seldom heard from serving military officers. The authors begin this way:

Eight years into the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. intelligence community is only marginally relevant to the overall strategy. Having focused the overwhelming majority of its collec­tion efforts and analytical brainpower on insurgent groups, the vast intel­ligence apparatus is unable to answer fundamental questions about the envi­ronment in which U.S. and allied forces operate and the people they seek to persuade. Ignorant of local economics and landowners, hazy about who the powerbrokers are and how they might be influenced, incurious about the cor­relations between various development projects and the levels of coopera­tion among villagers, and disengaged from people in the best position to find answers – whether aid workers or Afghan soldiers – U.S. intelligence offi­cers and analysts can do little but shrug in response to high level decision-mak­ers seeking the knowledge, analysis, and information they need to wage a successful counterinsurgency.

The rest of the report isn’t so diplomatic. Flynn and his co-authors go on to describe the tendency of intel analysts to “overemphasize detailed informa­tion about the enemy at the expense of the political, economic, and cultural environment that supports it.” They propose a solution—setting up new fusion cells called Stability Operations Information Centers, which would focus on Afghanistan district by district. The analysts who work there will not be allowed to remain in a cushy office far from the battlefield. They call for commanders to:

… authorize a select group of analysts to retrieve information from the ground level and make it available to a broader audience, similar to the way journalists work. These analysts must leave their chairs and visit the people who operate at the grassroots level – civil affairs officers, PRTs, atmospherics teams, Afghan liaison officers, female engagement teams, will­ing NGOs and development organizations, United Nations officials, psychological operations teams, human terrain teams, and staff officers with infan­try battalions – to name a few.

That may sound like common sense, but it is a radical departure from how many within the intel community work today.

Normally, reports of this sort come and go, issuing recommendations that are by and large ignored by policymakers. In this case, Major General Flynn’s rank and position mean that his insightful criticisms and prescriptions will get the attention they deserve — he can order many of these changes to be instituted. But he also knows that issuing memos in Kabul doesn’t affect fundamental change on the ground. To get out his message to current and future operational commanders, he has chosen a most unconventional approach — one that has caused predictable sniping at the Pentagon. Such uproar is instinctively avoided by most officers — indeed by most federal employees — but McChrystal and his aides know it is the only way to bring about the fundamental change needed to reverse the Taliban’s momentum.

One of the reasons I admire Gen. Stanley McChrystal and think he is the right commander to turn around the war effort in Afghanistan is that he is not afraid to be unconventional and effective even if, in so doing, he leaves a few colleagues with noses bent out of joint. And he has surrounded himself with similar hard chargers, including Major General Michael Flynn, his chief intelligence officer. Now Flynn has done something that has caused a minor earthquake in the Pentagon — he has written a scathing overview of the intelligence operations in Afghanistan not for internal distribution to a handful of top-secret addressees but rather to the whole world, via the Center for a New American Security in Washington.

His report, co-written with a DIA officer and a Marine captain (who was formerly a Wall Street Journal reporter), is a must-read for anyone who cares about the war in Afghanistan, the wider war on terror, or the subject of intelligence in general, much in the news these days.  It includes the kind of blunt talk seldom heard from serving military officers. The authors begin this way:

Eight years into the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. intelligence community is only marginally relevant to the overall strategy. Having focused the overwhelming majority of its collec­tion efforts and analytical brainpower on insurgent groups, the vast intel­ligence apparatus is unable to answer fundamental questions about the envi­ronment in which U.S. and allied forces operate and the people they seek to persuade. Ignorant of local economics and landowners, hazy about who the powerbrokers are and how they might be influenced, incurious about the cor­relations between various development projects and the levels of coopera­tion among villagers, and disengaged from people in the best position to find answers – whether aid workers or Afghan soldiers – U.S. intelligence offi­cers and analysts can do little but shrug in response to high level decision-mak­ers seeking the knowledge, analysis, and information they need to wage a successful counterinsurgency.

The rest of the report isn’t so diplomatic. Flynn and his co-authors go on to describe the tendency of intel analysts to “overemphasize detailed informa­tion about the enemy at the expense of the political, economic, and cultural environment that supports it.” They propose a solution—setting up new fusion cells called Stability Operations Information Centers, which would focus on Afghanistan district by district. The analysts who work there will not be allowed to remain in a cushy office far from the battlefield. They call for commanders to:

… authorize a select group of analysts to retrieve information from the ground level and make it available to a broader audience, similar to the way journalists work. These analysts must leave their chairs and visit the people who operate at the grassroots level – civil affairs officers, PRTs, atmospherics teams, Afghan liaison officers, female engagement teams, will­ing NGOs and development organizations, United Nations officials, psychological operations teams, human terrain teams, and staff officers with infan­try battalions – to name a few.

That may sound like common sense, but it is a radical departure from how many within the intel community work today.

Normally, reports of this sort come and go, issuing recommendations that are by and large ignored by policymakers. In this case, Major General Flynn’s rank and position mean that his insightful criticisms and prescriptions will get the attention they deserve — he can order many of these changes to be instituted. But he also knows that issuing memos in Kabul doesn’t affect fundamental change on the ground. To get out his message to current and future operational commanders, he has chosen a most unconventional approach — one that has caused predictable sniping at the Pentagon. Such uproar is instinctively avoided by most officers — indeed by most federal employees — but McChrystal and his aides know it is the only way to bring about the fundamental change needed to reverse the Taliban’s momentum.

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Re: Obama, the Overmatched President

Pete, the whining is a bit much to take, isn’t it? But it is not uncommon and seems to be a sort of rhetorical tic employed by many Democratic presidents. They seem to think we should be impressed because they work hard or think deeply about the things they are elected to handle. Remember Bill Clinton reminding us about how hard he worked and about all the late-night meetings? Obama and his spinners also liked to regale us with tales about his endless, soul-searching Afghanistan seminars. They imagine the public is going to give them credit simply for working at a job they were elected to perform.

And they seem to think the public will be impressed because they have a command of minutiae. Obama knows how many troops we should have in each and every Afghan province! Clinton knew the maps and relative population figures for Palestinians and Israelis better than the two sides! Seriously, none of that matters. The minutiae are going to change with the first contact with reality. (Gen. Stanley McChrystal is going to put the troops where they need to go, so long as the White House doesn’t micromanage the battle.) And if the president gets the big things wrong (e.g., supposing Arafat wanted a peace deal, setting up a withdrawal deadline that freaks out our allies and emboldens our foes), none of the small stuff matters.

So why do these Democratic presidents do it? It is the triumph they imagine of intentions over results. And it is a huge act of ego — the hubris of believing that they should be applauded for being so diligent rather than be judged on the results they achieve.

Pete, the whining is a bit much to take, isn’t it? But it is not uncommon and seems to be a sort of rhetorical tic employed by many Democratic presidents. They seem to think we should be impressed because they work hard or think deeply about the things they are elected to handle. Remember Bill Clinton reminding us about how hard he worked and about all the late-night meetings? Obama and his spinners also liked to regale us with tales about his endless, soul-searching Afghanistan seminars. They imagine the public is going to give them credit simply for working at a job they were elected to perform.

And they seem to think the public will be impressed because they have a command of minutiae. Obama knows how many troops we should have in each and every Afghan province! Clinton knew the maps and relative population figures for Palestinians and Israelis better than the two sides! Seriously, none of that matters. The minutiae are going to change with the first contact with reality. (Gen. Stanley McChrystal is going to put the troops where they need to go, so long as the White House doesn’t micromanage the battle.) And if the president gets the big things wrong (e.g., supposing Arafat wanted a peace deal, setting up a withdrawal deadline that freaks out our allies and emboldens our foes), none of the small stuff matters.

So why do these Democratic presidents do it? It is the triumph they imagine of intentions over results. And it is a huge act of ego — the hubris of believing that they should be applauded for being so diligent rather than be judged on the results they achieve.

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The Day After

There were two positive developments in the aftermath of Obama’s West Point speech. As this report notes, no matter how loudly the liberal Democrats squawk, they aren’t going to be able to deprive the administration of funding for the Afghanistan surge:

Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, a vocal war critic who is a senior House Democrat overseeing military spending, predicted that Congress would pass a $40 billion war financing bill early next year to pay for the added deployments.

Murtha said he remains unconvinced the troop increase is a good idea but believes he and other anti-war Democrats will not be able to stop it. “It’s not likely that there would be any circumstances where the president would lose this battle this year,” he said.

Perhaps too much attention and effort was spent worrying about the Murtha contingent.

Second, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates did everything humanly possible to walk back and fuzz up that 2011 “deadline”:

At a Senate hearing Wednesday morning, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, under tough questioning, said the Pentagon will “evaluate” next year whether the military can meet its goal of starting to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by July 2011, signaling that the withdrawal date could move back if violence spirals out of control.

Under pressure from Sen. John McCain, Gates made clear this isn’t much of a deadline, honest:

Gates said U.S. forces should be able to move out of “uncontested areas” by the summer of 2011 but that the United States would not transfer security responsibility to the Afghans in any province until they can stand up on their own. He said the security team would review the situation at the end of 2010 to see whether the military “can meet that objective” with regard to the timeline.

“If it appears that the strategy’s not working and that we are not going to be able to transition in 2011 then we will take a hard look at the strategy itself,” he said, adding that the president reserves the right to adjust his decision. “We’re not going to just throw these guys into the swimming pool and then walk away.”

That message will need to be re-enforced by the president. He will have his war-funding from Congress, Gen. Stanley McChrystal will have his troops, and we appear to have a workable strategy. Perhaps we need a redo on the presidential speech — this time with feeling.

There were two positive developments in the aftermath of Obama’s West Point speech. As this report notes, no matter how loudly the liberal Democrats squawk, they aren’t going to be able to deprive the administration of funding for the Afghanistan surge:

Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, a vocal war critic who is a senior House Democrat overseeing military spending, predicted that Congress would pass a $40 billion war financing bill early next year to pay for the added deployments.

Murtha said he remains unconvinced the troop increase is a good idea but believes he and other anti-war Democrats will not be able to stop it. “It’s not likely that there would be any circumstances where the president would lose this battle this year,” he said.

Perhaps too much attention and effort was spent worrying about the Murtha contingent.

Second, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates did everything humanly possible to walk back and fuzz up that 2011 “deadline”:

At a Senate hearing Wednesday morning, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, under tough questioning, said the Pentagon will “evaluate” next year whether the military can meet its goal of starting to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by July 2011, signaling that the withdrawal date could move back if violence spirals out of control.

Under pressure from Sen. John McCain, Gates made clear this isn’t much of a deadline, honest:

Gates said U.S. forces should be able to move out of “uncontested areas” by the summer of 2011 but that the United States would not transfer security responsibility to the Afghans in any province until they can stand up on their own. He said the security team would review the situation at the end of 2010 to see whether the military “can meet that objective” with regard to the timeline.

“If it appears that the strategy’s not working and that we are not going to be able to transition in 2011 then we will take a hard look at the strategy itself,” he said, adding that the president reserves the right to adjust his decision. “We’re not going to just throw these guys into the swimming pool and then walk away.”

That message will need to be re-enforced by the president. He will have his war-funding from Congress, Gen. Stanley McChrystal will have his troops, and we appear to have a workable strategy. Perhaps we need a redo on the presidential speech — this time with feeling.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Sen. Evan Bayh on a war surtax: “I don’t think it’s a good idea, not at this point, Chris.” He observes that “if ultimately you’re going to have to start talking about raising taxes, you shouldn’t do it until the economy is robust and really on its — on some pretty good footing.” Er … what about the hundreds of billions in the health-care bill?

Dana Perino on what conservatives will probably do if Obama gives Gen. Stanley McChrystal most of what he wants: “I think they’ll have to set aside the fact that they think it was a really sloppy process, that he undermined President Karzai, that he alienated General McChrystal, and say, ‘This is the right thing to do. We wish he wouldn’t talk about exit ramps so soon, but this is the right thing to do,’ and providing the generals what they need.”

Robert Gibbs issues a distressingly comical statement on news that Iran is about to embark on building 10 more enrichment sites, pronouncing that “time is running out for Iran to address the international community’s growing concerns about its nuclear program.” Good grief. Could they possibly sound any more inept and unserious? Perhaps double secret probation is next.

Mike Huckabee says he likes his TV gig and sounds not too serious about running in 2012. But remember, in 2005 we hadn’t a clue who really was and wasn’t going to run in 2008, so perhaps it’s best to wait a year or three before assessing the field.

ObamaCare seems to have a negative impact on its supporters: “When survey respondents are informed that AARP does support the health care plan, the number with a favorable opinion of the group falls 10 percentage points from 53% to 43%. Knowing of AARP’s position on health care legislation, 53% offer an unfavorable opinion of the group. The number with a Very Unfavorable view nearly doubles from 20% to 38%. Those with a negative opinion include 52% of senior citizens and 59% of those aged 50-64.”

Bibi makes clear where the problem rests in the non-peace process: “I see preconditions being laid that never before existed. I see legal steps being taken at the international court to advance that absurd thing called the Goldstone report. You can’t reach peace if the horizon is moving away.”

Richard Allen on the West Point venue for Obama’s speech: “An announcement on which so much rests must be made from the President’s own unique and highly symbolic center of authority, The Oval Office. It has meaning. It should be made by him alone, without the props of thousands in an audience and the hoopla of presidential travel and a massive press entourage. This President surely does not need the device of an audience to authenticate and legitimize his message or to bolster apparent support. But it would appear that he will seek solace, if not a measure of safety, in a large audience over which he has command.”

Another fight in the Senate: “The vote on increasing the debt will come just as Congress tries to put the finishing touches on a trillion-dollar plan to overhaul the nation’s health care system and President Barack Obama considers a possible escalation in the war in Afghanistan that could cost another trillion dollars over the next 10 years. A bipartisan group of more than a dozen senators is threatening to vote against an increase in the debt limit unless Congress passes a new deficit-fighting plan.” Maybe they should just not vote for the trillion-dollar health-care plan.

Mark Steyn bursts the “peer review” balloon: “The trouble with outsourcing your marbles to the peer-reviewed set is that, if you take away one single thing from the leaked documents, it’s that the global warm-mongers have wholly corrupted the ‘peer-review’ process. When it comes to promoting the impending ecopalypse, the Climate Research Unit is the nerve-center of the operation. The ‘science’ of the CRU dominates the ‘science’ behind the UN’s IPCC, which dominates the ‘science’ behind the Congressional cap-and-trade boondoggle, the upcoming Copenhagen shakindownen of the developed world, and the now routine phenomenon of leaders of advanced, prosperous societies talking like gibbering madmen escaped from the padded cell, whether it’s President Obama promising to end the rise of the oceans or the Prince of Wales saying we only have 96 months left to save the planet.”

Sen. Evan Bayh on a war surtax: “I don’t think it’s a good idea, not at this point, Chris.” He observes that “if ultimately you’re going to have to start talking about raising taxes, you shouldn’t do it until the economy is robust and really on its — on some pretty good footing.” Er … what about the hundreds of billions in the health-care bill?

Dana Perino on what conservatives will probably do if Obama gives Gen. Stanley McChrystal most of what he wants: “I think they’ll have to set aside the fact that they think it was a really sloppy process, that he undermined President Karzai, that he alienated General McChrystal, and say, ‘This is the right thing to do. We wish he wouldn’t talk about exit ramps so soon, but this is the right thing to do,’ and providing the generals what they need.”

Robert Gibbs issues a distressingly comical statement on news that Iran is about to embark on building 10 more enrichment sites, pronouncing that “time is running out for Iran to address the international community’s growing concerns about its nuclear program.” Good grief. Could they possibly sound any more inept and unserious? Perhaps double secret probation is next.

Mike Huckabee says he likes his TV gig and sounds not too serious about running in 2012. But remember, in 2005 we hadn’t a clue who really was and wasn’t going to run in 2008, so perhaps it’s best to wait a year or three before assessing the field.

ObamaCare seems to have a negative impact on its supporters: “When survey respondents are informed that AARP does support the health care plan, the number with a favorable opinion of the group falls 10 percentage points from 53% to 43%. Knowing of AARP’s position on health care legislation, 53% offer an unfavorable opinion of the group. The number with a Very Unfavorable view nearly doubles from 20% to 38%. Those with a negative opinion include 52% of senior citizens and 59% of those aged 50-64.”

Bibi makes clear where the problem rests in the non-peace process: “I see preconditions being laid that never before existed. I see legal steps being taken at the international court to advance that absurd thing called the Goldstone report. You can’t reach peace if the horizon is moving away.”

Richard Allen on the West Point venue for Obama’s speech: “An announcement on which so much rests must be made from the President’s own unique and highly symbolic center of authority, The Oval Office. It has meaning. It should be made by him alone, without the props of thousands in an audience and the hoopla of presidential travel and a massive press entourage. This President surely does not need the device of an audience to authenticate and legitimize his message or to bolster apparent support. But it would appear that he will seek solace, if not a measure of safety, in a large audience over which he has command.”

Another fight in the Senate: “The vote on increasing the debt will come just as Congress tries to put the finishing touches on a trillion-dollar plan to overhaul the nation’s health care system and President Barack Obama considers a possible escalation in the war in Afghanistan that could cost another trillion dollars over the next 10 years. A bipartisan group of more than a dozen senators is threatening to vote against an increase in the debt limit unless Congress passes a new deficit-fighting plan.” Maybe they should just not vote for the trillion-dollar health-care plan.

Mark Steyn bursts the “peer review” balloon: “The trouble with outsourcing your marbles to the peer-reviewed set is that, if you take away one single thing from the leaked documents, it’s that the global warm-mongers have wholly corrupted the ‘peer-review’ process. When it comes to promoting the impending ecopalypse, the Climate Research Unit is the nerve-center of the operation. The ‘science’ of the CRU dominates the ‘science’ behind the UN’s IPCC, which dominates the ‘science’ behind the Congressional cap-and-trade boondoggle, the upcoming Copenhagen shakindownen of the developed world, and the now routine phenomenon of leaders of advanced, prosperous societies talking like gibbering madmen escaped from the padded cell, whether it’s President Obama promising to end the rise of the oceans or the Prince of Wales saying we only have 96 months left to save the planet.”

Read Less




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