Both the New York Times and the Washington Post carried feature-length, page one articles yesterday analyzing the inside debate over President Obama’s Afghanistan policy. The Times piece, by Peter Baker, was called: “How Obama Came to Plan for ‘Surge’ in Afghanistan.” The Post story, “Obama pressed for faster surge: Afghan review a marathon,” was written by Anne E. Kornblut, Scott Wilson and Karen DeYoung.
Take some time and read both of them in full. But here I’m summarizing some key points that emerged in the two stories, reflecting what I see as a clear division between Obama’s own point of view and that of his more hawkish advisers, including General McChrystal, General Petraeus, Secretary of Defense Gates, and Secretary of State Clinton. The differences fall into two key areas. First, Obama consistently rejected the all-out, nation-building counterinsurgency strategy whose chief advocate was, of course, McChrystal. And second, Obama insisted throughout the months-long review that the United States must plan for an exit. According to the two newspaper accounts, at least, tthe 2011 date is a firm one, in Obama’s mind at least.
Let’s highlight some of the key moments.
One turning point in the discussion, according to the Post, came when McChrystal declared that his mission, as he saw it, was: “Defeat the Taliban.” Speaking on the record, General Jones, the national security adviser, says that McChrystal had concocted a strategy that “was obviously something much bigger and more longer-lasting . . . than we had intended.” Here’s the relevant passage:
In June, McChrystal noted, he had arrived in Afghanistan and set about fulfilling his assignment. His lean face, hovering on the screen at the end of the table, was replaced by a mission statement on a slide: “Defeat the Taliban. Secure the Population.”
“Is that really what you think your mission is?” one of those in the Situation Room asked.
On the face of it, it was impossible — the Taliban were part of the fabric of the Pashtun belt of southern Afghanistan, culturally if not ideologically supported by a significant part of the population. “We don’t need to do that,” Gates said, according to a participant. “That’s an open-ended, forever commitment.”