President Obama knows better than to agree to General McChrystal's proposal for military escalation in Afghanistan. He read the book.
On October 7, the Wall Street Journal reported that top officials of the Obama Administration, including President Obama himself, had recently read Gordon Goldstein's book on the path to U.S. military escalation in Vietnam: Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam.
The Journal reported that "For opponents of a major troop increase, led by Biden and Emanuel, "'Lessons in Disaster' ... encapsulates their concerns about accepting military advice unchallenged."
Indeed, a central theme of the book is President Kennedy's willingness, on the question of ground troops in Vietnam, to do what President Obama has not yet done regarding demands for military escalation in Afghanistan: stand up to the U.S. military and say no.
Journalist Seymour Hersh, a close student of the U.S. military since he broke the story of the My Lai massacre, says the U.S. army is "in a war against the White House - and they feel they have Obama boxed in." Hersh says the only way out is for Obama to stand up to the Pentagon. "He's either going to let the Pentagon run him or he has to run the Pentagon," Hersh said. If he doesn't, "this stuff is going to be the ruin of his presidency." The only way for the U.S. to extricate itself from the conflict, Hersh says, is to negotiate with the Taliban. "It's the only way out," he said. "I know that there's a lot of discussion in the White House about this now. But Obama is going to have to take charge, and there's no evidence he's going to do that."
Among Members of the House of Representatives, when there was an opportunity to join with others to go on the record specifically in favor of an "exit strategy" to end our military occupation of Afghanistan, or against sending more U.S. troops, who has signed on, and who voted yes?
The excel spreadsheet at this link gives an answer.
100 Members have co-sponsored Rep. McGovern's bill calling for the Pentagon to provide Congress with an exit strategy.
138 Members voted yes on June 25 when McGovern's amendment - same language as the bill - came up for a vote.
57 Members signed a letter sent to President Obama on September 25 urging him to reject an increase in the number of U.S. combat troops in Afghanistan.
23 Members have co-sponsored Rep. Lee's bill barring funding for an increase in troops.
All told, 150 Members of the House have taken at least one of these actions.
UPDATE: At this link, you can see all Members of the House, not just the 150, and their phone numbers. If your Representative has not co-sponsored the McGovern bill, call and ask your Rep. to co-sponsor the McGovern bill. If your Representative has co-sponsored the McGovern bill but not the Lee bill, call and ask your Rep. to co-sponsor the Lee bill. Report your result by commenting on this blog.
It's a time-honored Washington tradition. If you want to bully the government into doing something unpopular and the public into accepting it, manufacture a false emergency. Iraq war? If you don't approve it, mushroom cloud. Banker or IMF bailout? If you don't approve it, financial collapse. Social security privatization? If you don't approve it, the system will go "bankrupt." Our brand is crisis, as James Carville might say.
General McChrystal says that if President Obama does not approve 40,000 more U.S. troops for Afghanistan, and approve them right away, "our mission" - whatever that is - will likely "fail" - whatever that is.
But even if President Obama were to approve General McChrystal's request, the 40,000 troops wouldn't arrive in time to significantly affect the 12-month window McChrystal says will be decisive. So McChrystal's request isn't about what's happening in Afghanistan right now. It's about how many troops the U.S. will have in Afghanistan a year from now and beyond.
There is no emergency requiring a quick decision by President Obama. The current situation in Afghanistan is being used as a bloody shirt to try to lock America into to an endless war, and, as Andrew Bacevich argues in the Boston Globe, lock the Obama Administration into the continuation of military force as the main instrument of U.S. foreign policy.
The Washington Post reports:
In his 66-page assessment of the war, McChrystal warns that the next 12 months will probably determine whether U.S. and international forces can regain the initiative from the Taliban.
All hands on deck, Obama Nation. The ship of state is turning.
The New York Times reports:
President Obama's national security team is moving to reframe its war strategy by emphasizing the campaign against Al Qaeda in Pakistan while arguing that the Taliban in Afghanistan do not pose a direct threat to the United States, officials said Wednesday.
This shift means that President Obama will not have to approve General McChrystal's request for 40,000 more troops:
the shift in thinking, outlined by senior administration officials on Wednesday, suggests that the president has been presented with an approach that would not require all of the additional troops that his commanding general in the region has requested.
Finally, the Administration is going to distinguish between the Afghan Taliban, an indigenous Afghan movement with Afghan goals, and Al Qaeda, a global movement with a global agenda of attacking the United States:
"Clearly, Al Qaeda is a threat not only to the U.S. homeland and American interests abroad, but it has a murderous agenda," one senior administration official said in an interview initiated by the White House on Wednesday on the condition of anonymity because the strategy review has not been finished. "We want to destroy its leadership, its infrastructure and its capability."
The official contrasted that with the Afghan Taliban, which the administration has begun to define as an indigenous group that aspires to reclaim territory and rule the country but does not express ambitions of attacking the United States. "When the two are aligned, it's mainly on the tactical front," the official said, noting that Al Qaeda has fewer than 100 fighters in Afghanistan.
The Taliban cannot be removed from Afghanistan, Team Obama says:
The cavalry has arrived!
MoveOn.org is asking MoveOn members to write to President Obama in opposition to Pentagon/ McCain/Lieberman demands for more U.S. troops to be sent to Afghanistan, Greg Sargent reports.
MoveOn To Call On Obama To Develop Exit Strategy For Afghanistan
In its first direct pressure on President Obama over a major war-and-peace issue, MoveOn will call on the president today to develop an exit strategy for Afghanistan, a MoveOn official confirms to me.
MoveOn will blast an email to its massive list later today calling for members to write to the White House and demand "a clear exit strategy," the official confirms.
Indeed, MoveOn has already sent the email to some of its members. (If you are a MoveOn member and didn't see the email, don't panic - MoveOn typically starts its engagement by sending an email to part of its massive list.)
Sargent publishes the email here.
Pro-war advocates both inside and outside the administration - including John McCain and Joe Lieberman - are calling for a big escalation. The general in charge of Afghanistan is expected to request tens of thousands more troops, and that may just be the beginning. They're cranking up the pressure for an immediate surge.
But other powerful voices are urging caution: Vice President Biden and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel have raised real concerns about the idea of sending more troops to Afghanistan without a clear strategy, as have Democrats in Congress. And a majority of Americans oppose increasing troop levels.
Journalist Andrea Mitchell has noted that General McChrystal's report to President Obama calls for 500,000 troops in Afghanistan. [That's not 500,000 U.S. troops, but 500,000 troops overall.] Mitchell correctly notes that if you don't believe that the goals in McChrystal's report for increasing the size of the Afghan army are realistic, that should lead you to question agreeing to send more U.S. troops, because the premise of the request for more troops is that if you add more U.S. troops there's going to be "success," and that success, apparently, requires 500,000 boots on the ground. If you don't believe there's going to be success even if you add more U.S. troops, then you shouldn't add more U.S. troops - you should do something else.
McChrystal has suggested that without more U.S. troops we will "fail" - but the same logic says that without more Afghan troops we will also "fail." If adding the additional U.S. troops will not lead to the required addition of Afghan troops, then U.S. policy will "fail," even with the additional U.S. troops.
Some have dismissed the concern occasioned by Mitchell's comments by saying of course there aren't going to be half a million U.S. troops in Afghanistan. It's certainly true that there aren't going to be half a million U.S. troops in Afghanistan. But supporters of sending more troops have to answer this: to defend sending another 40,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan, they have to defend their scenario that there's going to be 350,000 Afghan boots on the ground. Otherwise - according to General McChrystal - their plan is not going to work. Furthermore, they should say now what they will propose then if adding 40,000 more U.S. troops does not produce 350,000 Afghan troops. Do they promise not to ask for more U.S. troops? Would anyone believe such a promise?
Live long enough, and you get to have diverse experiences. Today I get to defend the head of the CIA for telling the truth.
CIA director Leon Panetta is catching some flak on the Intertubes for telling Voice of America that
even if suspect ballots are discounted, President Hamid Karzai will in all likelihood win re-election.
But if you look at the numbers for 15 seconds, it's clear that Panetta is simply stating the obvious.
Panetta's full quote was:
"It's clear that there was some degree of corruption and fraud involved in the election," Panetta said. "It's being viewed now by the commissions involved in counting those votes. I think what appears to be the case is that even after they eliminate some of the votes that resulted because of fraud, that Karzai will still - still looks like the individual who's going to be able to win that election."
Here are the numbers, according to the New York Times on September 16:
Karzai 3,093,256 54.6%
Abdullah 1,571,581 27.8%
Valid votes 5,662,758
Ballots being reviewed:
So, if every ballot being reviewed were thrown out, the result would be:
With all reviewed ballots excluded:
Karzai 1,993,256 46.8%
Abdullah 1,271,581 29.8%
But if half of the reviewed ballots were thrown out (assuming that half of reviewed Karzai ballots and half of reviewed Abdullah ballots are thrown out - that is, throwing out more than 3 times as many Karzai ballots as Abdullah ballots), the result would be
With half of reviewed ballots excluded:
Karzai 2,543,256 51.2%
Abdullah 1,421,581 28.6%
The stars are aligning for a winnable and worthwhile fight on U.S. policy in Afghanistan in the next several weeks: stopping the Obama Administration from sending more troops.
It should be winnable, because: the public is against sending more troops, the overwhelming majority of Democrats are against sending more troops, key Democrats in Congress have begun to speak out against sending more troops, the Obama Administration is divided, President Obama hasn't taken a public position, and the Obama Administration has signaled that it will not take a public position for several weeks. The delay gives opponents time to mobilize, more Members of Congress the opportunity to speak out before the Administration solidifies its position.
It's a worthwhile fight, among other reasons, because if we want the U.S. government to seriously pursue diplomatic efforts to resolve the Afghanistan conflict politically, we have to jam them up on the "military option."
On October 1, the U.S. plans to talk to Iran. This is happening, in part, because Washington doesn't see a "military option" in Iran now. Part of the reason Washington doesn't see a military option in Iran is because they don't perceive the U.S. public as supporting a military option.
Denying the Pentagon access to more U.S. troops isn't the most subtle, nuanced way to influence U.S. policy. But it's the main lever that the public has.
The political battle over more U.S. troops isn't a battle over what's going to happen in Afghanistan next month. The troop increase that President Obama approved earlier this year has not yet been completed. It's a political battle about what's going to happen in the next several years.
Indeed, if President Obama were to approve 10,000 more troops beyond the increase already approved, the likely effect over time would be simply to replace the troops from other countries that are almost certain to leave.
It's been a parameter of debate that the United States cannot allow Al Qaeda to re-establish a "terrorist haven" in Afghanistan. When I say it has been a parameter of debate, I mean that even many critics of the war, and those who have argued for a timetable for withdrawal or exit strategy, have accepted this as an assumption, and argued that there are better ways to achieve this goal than by maintaining the U.S. military occupation of Afghanistan. (As recently as Monday, I made such an argument.)
But in today's Washington Post, Paul Pillar challenges this assumption.
Paul Pillar has what one could call "impeccable establishment credentials." Pillar was deputy chief of the counterterrorist center at the CIA from 1997 to 1999.
How much does a [terrorist] haven affect the danger of terrorist attacks against U.S. interests, especially the U.S. homeland?
And he answers:
not nearly as much as unstated assumptions underlying the current debate seem to suppose. When a group has a haven, it will use it for such purposes as basic training of recruits. But the operations most important to future terrorist attacks do not need such a home, and few recruits are required for even very deadly terrorism. Consider: The preparations most important to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks took place not in training camps in Afghanistan but, rather, in apartments in Germany, hotel rooms in Spain and flight schools in the United States.
As Pillar notes,
The issue today does not concern what was worth disrupting eight years ago. And it is not whether a haven in Afghanistan would be of any use to a terrorist group -- it would.
The United States should withdraw its military forces from Afghanistan. The safest, most feasible and most ethical way to bring this about is through the establishment of a public, negotiated timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces. Such a timetable should be a core provision of an agreement negotiated by the United States with the Afghan government and with international military partners of the United States in Afghanistan governing the presence of foreign military forces in the country. Such an agreement would bolster the legitimacy of the Afghan government, as well as the legitimacy of the foreign military presence; such an agreement would dramatically increase the patience of the Afghan public, and of Western publics, for the operations of foreign military forces while they remain.
Recent public opinion polls clearly indicate that the American public no longer supports the U.S. war in Afghanistan. When Americans are asked about sending more troops, as General McChrystal is expected to soon propose, the response is even more lopsided opposition. If General McChrystal says he needs more troops to accomplish the mission he has been assigned, and we aren't willing to send more troops, that suggests that the mission needs to change to one that can be accomplished with the number of troops that we are willing to send. If there is no worthwhile mission that can be accomplished with the troops that we are willing to send, then our troops should be withdrawn.
I'm a firm believer in the idea that the United States should promote democracy by setting a good example. If the majority of Americans don't support the war, the U.S. prosecution of the war should not continue indefinitely.