With 14 more dead Americans today, in three helicopter crashes, it’s beginning to look like President Obama will, after all, opt for a significant escalation of the war — at least, according to the Wall Street Journal. On Saturday, the paper reported the first substantial leak about the president’s plans after the weeks-long policy review:
“The Obama administration is moving toward a hybrid strategy in Afghanistan that would combine elements of both the troop-heavy approach sought by its top military commander and a narrower option backed by Vice President Joe Biden, a decision that could pave the way for thousands of new U.S. forces.
“The emerging strategy would largely rebuff proposals to maintain current troop levels and rely on unmanned drone attacks and elite special-operations troops to hunt individual militants, an idea championed by Mr. Biden. It is opposed by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Kabul, and other military officials.
“One scenario under consideration, according to an official familiar with the deliberations, calls for deploying 10,000 to 20,000 U.S. reinforcements primarily to ramp up the training of the Afghan security forces. But Gen. McChrystal’s request for 40,000 troops also remains on the table.
“People familiar with the internal debates say Mr. Obama rejected a strictly counter-terror approach during White House deliberations in early October. One official said Pentagon strategists were asked to draft brief written arguments making the best case for each strategy, but the strategists had difficulties writing out a credible case for the counter-terror approach — prompting members of Mr. Biden’s staff to step in and write the document themselves.
“Signs the White House is moving towards Gen. McChrystal’s view of the conflict mounted Friday as the 28 North Atlantic Treaty Organization defense ministers endorsed the commander’s counterinsurgency strategy and signaled they might be open to modestly increasing their military and civilian contributions to the war effort.”
If this is true, there’s a gloomy way to assess it, namely, that Obama is intent on “winning” the war, whatever it takes, and that an increase of 10,000 to 20,000 US forces — even if called “trainers” — is just a downpayment. The more optimistic, or shall I say, charitable interpretation is that this is another “feint” by Obama, i.e., that the president understands that the war isn’t winnable, and yet he’s unwilling to suddenly reverse course and set a drawdown timetable. (Training Afghans is Senator Carl Levin’s preferred solution, as hopeless as that task might be.) Christine Fair, the AfPak specialist, is willing to give the latter interpretation to what Obama might do. As she told me in a recent interview: