Foreign Policy Blogs

Afghan Woodwork

It appears that journalist Bob Woodward has the scoop again on the Obama administration’s next moves in Afghanistan. Well, I guess that’s not really accurate, as Woodward really has just broken the story of the Obama administration’s ‘plans’ for how they are going to decide their next moves in the war in Afghanistan. All of Woodward’s information comes from a phone interview with the administration’s National Security Advisor James Jones. Like I said, the interview and article do not divulge any real policy changes or decisions, but we do find out a set of 5 or so national security meetings debating the McChrystal report are scheduled in the next few weeks and few other nuggets that shed some light on the administration’s thinking and possible policy outcomes. Let’s see what Woodward and Jones had to say:

The upcoming meetings will begin with the assumption that the McChrystal strategy is correct, Jones said, adding that the president will “encourage free-wheeling discussion” and that “nothing is off the table.”

Overall, this sounds sound to me. Obama put McChrystal in charge of the war effort and therefore it is not surprising that he would put great weight into the General’s report and recommendations, however, if McChrystal’s report is indeed ‘correct’ and the said report recommended a strong counterinsurgency strategy that mandates thousands of more troops, than why the two following quotes, especially ‘nothing is off the table.’ I find much to be encouraging by President Obama’s willingness to see contrasting angles and hear varying views on important national security matters, but this smells a little too much like buying time because of indecisiveness within the administration. I mean Obama was ready to send 21,000 men and women to ‘protect the Afghan people’ from the moment he became President, but now appears to be wavering in support of a similar strategy. There is no doubt that growing public discontent, dissenting voices of influential folks (Biden, Will, Congressional Democrats), and the faltering legitimacy of the afghan presidential election have given ample reason to rethink US policy in Afghanistan, but the Obama administration should have been more prepared for these occurrences when it sent in the original troop surge in spring.

Moving on…

“The bumper sticker here is strategy before resources,” said Jones, adding: “This isn’t just about more troops.”

This has been a consistent line by the Obama administration since they took office and of course it sounds (sorry) sound, but right now, it just sounds like dodging making a decision. I mean troops, aka ‘resources’, are a central part of the McChrystal counterinsurgency strategy. To talk about one without the other does not really make sense right now. Of course we all want to see a well thought out strategy in place before we put our soldiers’ and the Afghan civilians’ lives at stake, but statements like this are really just buying time right now.


Jones said the challenges Obama faces in the Afghan war are more “complex” and “bigger than the surge” decision President George W. Bush faced in Iraq three years ago.

I’m pretty sure the Iraq surge came up because Woodward brought it up otherwise I don’t really get why Jones would say this. Though Jones’ thoughts on this comparison are not really that important, I find him to wrong. An Iraq, already holding over 120,000 American troops, on the verge of possibly destabilizing one of most volatile regions of the world in 2006 was a grave threat. The number of surge troops, around 30,000-40,000 for Iraq and possibly the same number in Afghanistan, are close and with the recognition of the myriad of challenges facing the US in Afghanistan today, I don’t see how they can be
called more ‘complex’ than the geopolitics of Mesopotamia and the relationship between Iraqi Shia, Sunni, and Kurds.