Plan deserves a chance

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

President Obama's speech to the nation last week outlining his strategy for Afghanistan has drawn fire from both the far left and the far right, which means he essentially adopted a middle-of-the-road approach to that quagmire.

Operationally, the plan appears to have Gen. David Petreaus' fingerprints all over it, and that's not bad, since Petreaus is probably the nation's leading military expert and theoretician on counter-insurgency warfare.

Although the left wing of the political spectrum wanted an all-out and immediate pull out, that was never a likely possibility. In the vital realm of world politics the United States needed to maintain a presence, at least for a while, in that troubled land.

The right wing objected to a timetable for withdrawal of the 30,000 "surge" troops Obama is sending to Afghanistan, contending all the Taliban would have to do is wait out the U.S. before resuming operations. But that isn't very likely either. If they pulled back it would allow the U.S., its allies and the Afghan government time to establish itself throughout the country and build unopposed the infrastructure needed to hold the Taliban at bay. No, they'll keep fighting the "infidel" at every turn. Currently in control of most of the country, the Taliban doesn't dare let their enemy have time to establish itself.

Furthermore, the timetable is only the point at which the surge troops begin to be withdrawn. There is no timetable for "final" withdrawal, as there is in Iraq. There is also more time allowed for the surge to be effective than the six months that Petreaus' surge in Iraq was given to achieve its goals (it actually took a year, but that's still less than the 18 months McChrystal is being given in Afghanistan).

Perhaps more importantly, the timetable is a clear signal to the Afghan government that it has to quickly pick up its own responsibility for providing security to its people. The timetable appears to be more about providing pressure on the Afghan government than anything else.

The number of troops that will "surge" into Afghanistan is at the low end of the proposals presented to the president by his military advisors. But the president has, at the same time, sharply narrowed the mission of our military forces there, so the numbers will probably be adequate for their new role.

That narrowing of the mission is important, because it asks our military to accomplish primarily military goals -- for which it is designed and capable of achieving -- not political goals for which it is not designed and which has been a big part of its mission in the past. The political side will be handled by other means, a concurrent surge in civilian domestic advisors and assistance.

This appears to be a sound policy. The surge will allow the allied forces to hit the Taliban hard, while pressuring the Afghan government to get its act together and assume responsibility for its own nation. If it works, great. If it doesn't work, the U.S. and its allies can lay the blame at the door of the Afghan government and have a good reason for pulling all of their forces out. For the first time, there is an exit strategy that seems to be politically feasible and won't look like a defeat on the world stage.

Obama's military and national security advisors gave him good advice, and he actually listened to them. This policy should be given a chance to succeed.

-- Kelly Everitt