It’s Hard to Get Excited About the New Afghanistan Strategy

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Though it's only hours now until President Obama's prime-time speech to America outlining his new strategy in Afghanistan, the details of the plan continued to leak to the papers today. The Washington Post says Obama will announce a surge of 34,000 troops, ask NATO to contribute another 5,000 soldiers, and set benchmarks for withdrawal based upon the ability of the Afghan army and police to take over security on their own. The Wall Street Journal reports that Obama won't set a firm deadline but "would lay out specific goals for the new troops, time frames for achieving those goals and an explicit pathway toward ending the war." And according to the Times, Obama hopes that an accelerated troop deployment (of 30,000) will be completed by the end of May. So, what's the reaction among the opinion-makers and pundits? Unenthused! Those preferring a pullout are dismayed, those supporting a surge don't like the exit talk, and many others are simply torn.

• David Brooks gets the impression that Obama has thought through the realities of undertaking a counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan "in a serious manner, and improved some of his options — for example, by accelerating troop deployments. He has not been enthusiastic about expanding the U.S. role in Afghanistan, but he has not evaded his responsibility as commander in chief, and he’s taking brave political risks." [NYT]

• Joe Klein is "ambivalent," but feels "that the President has probably done the right thing here: a quick boost in fighting forces to try to bring the insurgency under control, a long-term recognition that the Taliban will always be a factor in Afghan politics married to an effort to limit the insurgents' reach in population center and wean some of the fighters off the battlefield." [Swampland/Time]

• Bob Herbert believes that Obama's decision will be a "tragic mistake." [NYT]

• Fred Kaplan can't decide where he stands on this complex question full of unsatisfying answers. "This option might be a good idea if it worked, but the chances of its working are slim (though not zero); all the other options seem to be bad ideas, but they might cost less money and get fewer American soldiers killed (though not necessarily)." [Slate]

• Craig Crawford wonders why, after the first troop surge in Afghanistan failed to "secure the election," we should "expect more troops for other purposes to do any better." [CQ Politics]

• James Taranto writes, "It sounds as though, after months of indecision, the president has finally resolved to be irresolute. It seems that his central strategic goal is to displease no one." [WSJ]

• Glenn Greenwald expects Obama's plan to sound "extremely familiar," since it'll basically be what George W. Bush did with the Iraq surge. [Salon]

• Matt Yglesias just wants to sigh. He isn't convinced that "this policy makes sense in cost-benefit terms," but he also feels that "Obama’s Afghanistan policy seems to be firmly grounded in a real consensus among the relevant people about what is and isn’t workable." [Think Progress]

• Andrew Sullivan thinks Obama is likely trapped, but "[w]e have yet to hear the president's explanation and we would do well to ponder his proposal as thoroughly as he has." [Atlantic]

• Rich Lowry says Obama is a "conflicted commander-in-chief, ordering the surge, but loading it with conditions and 'off ramps,' talking of resolve, but leaving room to maneuver. His head says 'win,' his heart says 'don’t commit.'" [National Review]

• Kim Holmes writes that "it will be extremely disappointing if the president fails to commit all the troops requested by the field command. But even if that happens, we should be wary of the argument that 'if we’re not in to win, we should pull out now.' That’s a false choice, because a pullout is a de facto defeat." [Corner/National Review]