Contrary to my own expectations, President Obama seems to be hesitant about announcing yet another escalation in Afghanistan.
General McChrystal has thrown down the gauntlet, saying that he needs more troops in the coming year or else the war “will likely result in failure.” In his 66-page report, he added:
“Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near term (next 12 months) — while Afghan security capacity matures — risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible.”
But Obama suggested yesterday, during his marathon round of Sunday interviews, that he may not be ready to write McChrystal the blank check that he wants. Obama said that he “is not going to be driven by the politics of the moment,” and he said that before he’ll add more troops he wants to make sure that the strategy is correct. He said, on CNN:
“Right now, the question is, the first question is, are we doing the right thing? Are we pursuing the right strategy? When we have clarity on that, then the question is, O.K., how do we resource it?”
On CBS Face the Nation, Obama said:
“Whatever decisions I make are going to be based first on a strategy to keep us safe, then we’ll figure out how to resource it. We’re not going to put the cart before the horse and just think by sending more troops we’re automatically going to make Americans safe.”
And he reiterated the key point that his objective in Afghanistan is to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al Qaeda — a goal that, according to many observers, is already accomplished — rather than to rebuild, or rather build, a nation where none exists.
Under the headline, “Obama Questions Plan to Add Forces in Afghanistan,” the Wall Street Journal reports:
“President Barack Obama on Sunday voiced skepticism that more troops would make a difference in Afghanistan, suggesting he might not rubber-stamp military officials’ expected request to send more forces to that country. … Mr. Obama’s comments suggested that the White House could be reassessing its strategy in Afghanistan, ahead of an expected request for more troops from Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. and NATO commander there. …
“Recent polls have shown declining support in the U.S. for the Afghanistan war. Mr. Obama has said that while he doesn’t favor an open-ended war in Afghanistan, he has no deadline for withdrawing forces and won’t base his decision on ‘the politics of the moment.'”
Already, Republicans are warning that Obama had better follow the military’s advice, or else. In fact, the president can afford to cross swords with the GOP troglodytes, but what he can’t afford is to alienate his own Democratic party base, which has overwhelming rejected the war. (Polls show Democrats are strongly opposed to the war in Afghanistan.)
Stay tuned. I’m spending most of the day at the annual conference of the Foreign Policy Initiative, the conclave of neoconservatives, and there ought to be a measurable level of apoplexy there.