The violence-prone, fraud-marred parliamentary election in Afghanistan is only the latest failure in the nine-year-long US war, but it's looking less and less likely that the White House is seriously thinking about changing gears. So far, at least, it appears as if President Obama isn't prepared to cut his losses in the war and order a sharp drawdown of troops next July, when, at least according to his stated policy, US forces will begin to leave Afghanistan. Worse, it looks like the much anticipated December 2010 presidential review of war policy is being reduced to a rubber-stamp approval of General David Petraeus’s counterinsurgency scheme.
At least, if we believe two major stories in the Washington Post and the New York Times by their chief diplomatic correspondents in the last few days.
The first piece, by Helene Cooper, David Sanger and Thom Shanker of the Times on September 17, was titled, “Once Wary, Obama Relies on Petraeus.” Its central point, bolstered by insider quotes from White House staffers, was that Obama is increasingly in harmony with Petraeus. The president and the general are "meshing well, advisers say," they reported, adding that the president strikes a "deferential tone" toward Petraeus even though Petraeus "has made clear that he opposes a rapid pullout of troops from Afghanistan beginning next July." And the Times team reported:
General Petraeus, who led the Iraq surge and was a favorite of Mr. Bush, has slowly worked himself into the good graces of a president who was once wary of him.
The article quoted Leslie Gelb, the über-insider at the Council on Foreign Relations, thus:
"They are joined at the hip, but the leverage lies with Petraeus. And Petraeus has made plain, publicly, that after July 2011, he doesn’t think there should be a rapid pullout."
The second piece, by Karen DeYoung of the Post on September 18, was titled "White House sees no big changes in Afghan war." Its lede:
Despite discouraging news from Afghanistan and growing doubts in Congress and among the American public, the Obama administration has concluded that its war strategy is sound and that a December review, once seen as a pivotal moment, is unlikely to yield any major changes.
Although outside experts—including a task force organized through Steve Clemons of the New America Foundation—believe "that the administration's path in Afghanistan is unsustainable and its objectives are unclear," reported DeYoung. Obama intends to disregard growing public opposition to the war and keep the strategy in place. She quoted a senior White House official as follows:
"The fundamentals are in the place where they should be. [Any adjustments] will be akin to moving the rabbit ears around a little bit to get better reception. I don't think we'll be changing the channel come December."
Of course, when Obama announced his second escalation of the war last December 1, he made a big deal of the fact that he'd review policy and strategy a year later. Now, if DeYoung's reporting is correct, the White House is signaling that the review will mean nothing at all. Which is exactly what General Stan McChrystal and General David Petraeus argued all along.
Since last summer, Petraeus and McChrystal have engaged in an insurgency of their own, bullying the White House, threatening to ally with prowar Republicans in a direct challenge to presidential authority, leaking favorable documents to the media, and, in McChrystal’s case, engaging in outright insubordination that threatened the very foundation of civilian control of the military. Based on what the Post and the Times are reporting now, their insurgency is even more successful that the Taliban’s.