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27 March 2009


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a reasonable, but not excessive amount of money helping the Afghans

According to WaPo, $3.2 billion per month or $53,300 per U,S. soldier there - double the cost per boot on the ground than in Iraq.

"Got some change ..."

That will help the Afghans. Sure - it will help them fight invaders like they always did.

There soon will be war fatigue in the U.S. again.

The U.S. strategic purpose behind this is to fight a Chinese proxy, Pakistan. That was the purpose of the war on Vietnam too.

The result will not be much different in my estimate.

William R. Cumming

So I guess just playing the tribes or religions off against each other would not be kosher or effective! We still want all to win in a geographic space where probably no one can "Win." Is this just really a buying time strategy? Hoping for the best (of what?)?



Thanks for the thoughtful and timely synthesis. I'm not quite as comfortable with this first cut at a new strategy for Afghanistan because it's unclear whether it's COIN in CT clothing or the reverse...

... but then again, there was no easy option (other than something more radical than anything imaginable) and I have considerable confidence in your judgement on this matter.

On the other hand, I don't understand your last point: is the divided command structure a characteristic of the Western forces or is it a reflection of the divisions between Afghani and Pakistani commands?


winning hearts and minds in Afghanistan

i am so proud of our military!


Maybe I'm missing something, but so far the plan doesn't look like a significant departure what's been in play for the last year or two. The basic policy objective remains essentially the same according to the white paper released on the new strategy (pdf file):

Therefore, the core goal of the U.S. must be to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda and its safe havens in Pakistan, and to prevent their return to Pakistan or Afghanistan.

Here are the objectives to support the policy:

  • Disrupting terrorist networks in Afghanistan and especially Pakistan to degrade any ability they have to plan and launch international terrorist attacks.
  • Promoting a more capable, accountable, and effective government in Afghanistan that serves the Afghan people and can eventually function, especially regarding internal security, with limited international support.
  • Developing increasingly self-reliant Afghan security forces that can lead the counterinsurgency and counterterrorism fight with reduced U.S. assistance.
  • Assisting efforts to enhance civilian control and stable constitutional government in Pakistan and a vibrant economy that provides opportunity for the people of Pakistan.
  • Involving the international community to actively assist in addressing these objectives for Afghanistan and Pakistan, with an important leadership role for the UN.

It seems to me they've reduced the emphasis on democracy promotion and increased emphasis on Pakistan, but the game plan remains largely the same. If this is a large departure, what am I missing?

Mad Dogs

My initial reaction has been that the Obama Administration, and specifically President Obama himself, punted.

As in: "I'm real busy and have my hands full trying to deal with the cratering US and World economy, so you US foreign policy and military folks can have some leash (17,000 more troops for COIN, another 4,300 for Afghan Army training and some more shekels for Pakistan). Let me know in a couple of years how things work out...unless I'm still too busy trying to deal with the cratering US and World economy."

The basic premise reminds me of a young girl who is "only a little bit pregnant...no big deal" and doesn't have the basic foresight to see things 9 months down the road.

It also reminds me of these prescient words written almost 40 years ago (writing about the era circa early 1963 or thereabouts) in regards to another administration's naivete:

From pages 178-179:

...Thus one of the lessons civilians who thought they could run small wars with great control was that to harness the military, you had to harness them completely; that once in, even partially, everything began to work in their favor. Once activated, even in a small way at first, they would soon dominate the play. Their particular power on the Hill and with hawkish journalists, their stronger hold on patriotic-machismo arguments (in decision making they proposed the manhood positions, their opponents the softer, or sissy, positions), their particular certitude, made them far more powerful players than the men raising doubts. The illusion would always be of civilian control; the reality would be of a relentlessly growing military domination of policy, intelligence, aims, objectives and means, with the civilians, the very ones who thought they could control the military (and who were often in private quite contemptuous of the military mind), conceding step by step, without even knowing they were losing...

From page 209:

...What the President was learning, and learning to his displeasure (once again, the Bay of Pigs had been lesson one), was something that his successor Lyndon Johnson would also find out the hard way: that the capacity to control policy involving the military is greatest before the policy is initiated, but once started, no matter how small the initial step, a policy has a life and a thrust of its own, it is an organic thing. More, its thrust and its drive may not be in any way akin to the desires of the President who initiated it. There is always the drive for more, more force, more tactics, wider latitudes of force...

From page 212:

...In government it is always easier to go forward with a program that does not work than to stop it altogether and admit failure...

These were words written about 40 years ago by David Halberstam in his book "The Best and The Brightest".

Patrick Lang


You have to learn to read between the lines. Most of that verbiage is just that. The essential part of the president's statement had to do with what will not be done, what was not mentioned.

What's in the troops reinforcement list so far? 17,000 and a 4,000 man Stryker brigade to be deployed south of the Hindu Kush with a dual mission as trainers. Chicken feed. Sorry, boys and girls. No offense meant. On the civilian side - some agriculture advisers, some governmtal function advisers...

What is not there is an open ended commitment of any kind.

Don't be gullible. The statement and the words are meant to mean anything to anyone, and they have been taken that way by many.

We will be out of there with most of our force by the next presidential election. pl

Patrick Lang


Those who are deeply uneasy about President Obama's strategy should be comforted that the childlike Christopher Matthews shares your opinion. pl

Mad Dogs

Pat wrote: "What is not there is an open ended commitment of any kind."

That meets my definition of "a little bit pregnant...no big deal".

And Pat wrote: "We will be out of there with most of our force by the next presidential election. pl"

Hah! Would that be after declaring "victory", "mission accomplished" or "none of the above"?

I would love to believe your prediction is correct, but I can't see the US political optics and mechanics supporting it.

The Republicans would like nothing better than to campaign in 2012 on a "Obama - Cut and run" strategy, and I don't see the likelihood of achieving "success" in that period of time.

Barring some miraculous and secret US strategy for dealing with Pakistan that we know nothing about, the safe haven for takfiri jihadis that is Pakistan seems likely to grow rather than dissipate.

I've not seen you so optimistic with regard to battles and war, so what are we missing?



The Stryker Brigade is part of the initial 17,000. The 4,000 additional troops should be coming from the 82d with the specified mission of fielding MiTTs/ETTs to support the training of the ASF. The information can be found on the second page. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/26/AR2009032602135_2.html?hpid=topnews

As a former SBCT member, this deployment will prove a challenge for the brigade. The entire library of knowledge for these brigades is Iraq centric. 5/2 SBCT was in the middle of an Iraq MRE at Fort Irwin when they recieved the change of mission. But the brigades have always been blessed with extremely innovative leaders from the Brigade Commanders on down the line.

On the strategic level, the policy does a great job of tying together all of the tools of national power and describing the holistic manner in their use, time will tell if we have the resources on hand to support such a strategy. The one weak part I do see is our desire to enable the Aghans to take the lead after we have enabled them. That will be the easy part. I fear that we may be helping Afghanistan build a security force they cannot sustain. Afghanistans average GPD is around 9-10 Billion of which Afghanistan is able to tax about 670 million. Even with very optomistic GDP growth and tax rates, most projections put the gap between Afghanistans total bottom line and its security requirements is about 1 billion dollars.

If security is to be the base we build fortress Afghanistan, we may have built it on a foundation of sand unless we commit to long term financing of Afghanistan, somewhat in contradiction to other aspects of the white paper and the Presidents remarks today.

Patrick Lang


This is not about being pregnant. We can leave Afghanistan when we choose, just as we are leaving Iraq.

This not the end of the world. There will be other wars in other places, other idiot presidents like George Bush.

The dark night of his presidency is over. accept it. pl



Did you see Gen McCaffrey's latest regarding this? McCaffrey pointed out last night on NBC Nightly News that the planned induction of 4,000 more troops by President Obama in Afghanistan this year, with the intent of training the Afghan National Army and the Afghan Police, means "we are going in for long time, we are not coming out." Many feel that the advice that the Obama crowd is operating on is wrong.

And it's like you said 'This not the end of the world.' and 'We can leave Afghanistan when we choose, just as we are leaving Iraq.' both are true, - but - at what cost in lives and treasure in the end?



Do you have any idea what will be the price tag for -- 'The other possibility in policy was that the US would spend a reasonable, but not excessive amount of money'?

Are we talking in excess of $1 Trillion?



My $1 Trillion plus, disregard as that would be the figure if we were 'in deep' in Afghanistan, instead of 'in lite'.

Medicine Man

I've been largely satisfied with Obama's foreign policy decisions so far. I have been satisfied because I wasn't expecting a sea change in the overall trajectory of US foreign policy. What I was hoping for was a shift to setting objectives and force commitments in a rational fashion, rather than policy being dictated by jingoism or magical thinking. Obama has so far delivered this.

Serving Patriot


We will be out of there with most of our force by the next presidential election.

That is what I thought I heard underneath all the talking today. I'm glad to hear that you heard that too.

Now, let's hope it actually unwinds in a way that keeps us from being sucked back in.

Based on what I see Russia's Lavrov doing these days, one has to wonder if the so-called reset button included a tacit admission to get out (or lower our profile) in Russia's traditional sphere of influence?


Patrick Lang


There is an ongoing argument in the administration about this. More than that I will not say.

I think McCaffery is wrong. we will do just enough in Afghanistan to keep it from becoming really dangerous.

Pakistan is the real problem. pl



Concur, Pakistan IS a real sticky wicket. Afghanistan doesn't have nukes, Pakistan DOES.


I agree with Medicine Man's comment that Obama does seem to have an open mind without obssessing on ideology.
Thanks, pl, for sharing your thoughts. Seeing an end date to our involvement in the region is appealing. The real problem, as you acknowledge, is events in Pakistan.
I hope there are more folks interested in security and peace than in unending Jihad or conflict.


After all this discussion and a more careful review of everything that Obama said in his presentation of the plan as well as that which was said - and not said - by Petraeus and Holbrooke on The NewsHour last night, I am encouraged by the fact that the minimalist objective of CT really does seem to be the goal even if the methods of COIN remain the principle means towards that end...

... and as such, a thought-experiment comes to mind: What happens "if and when" the combined international effort succeeds in eliminating the "foreign" jihadis from the region by either killing or capturing them or simply by driving them from the scene?

The emphasis is deliberate, Pat, because I do not think Obama can or will significantly reduce the commitment until a clear conclusion can be drawn on the status of Al Qaeda "central command" (ie, the fates of Bin Laden and Zawahiri), though it certainly is possible that Afghani forces could be taking a bigger role over time...

... and then, of course, the question will be whether that is "enough" to disengage both militarily and materially more completely.

William R. Cumming

It would be interesting to not just how much the US is spending on military assistance to India since should the cataclysmic event occur and radical fundamentalist elements gain control of the Pakistan nuclear arsenal the Indians are the only likely allies in dealing with that and they have the problem of being the third largest in a list of nations with Islamic populations after Pakistan and Indonesia. You could argue that a brilliant strategy is being run by the Islamic militants (and I do) first keep Afghanistan as proxy war with the US throught the Taliban, destablize Pakistan, and then destabilize India. Does not this seem to be helpful to Chinese long term ambitions? Okay what is our (US) long term strategy? Where is that written down? PL be curious as to whom you think in or out of US is the leading strategist concerning US interests? Hopefully more than one and does any one listen to them? What evidence do we have that GATES and Clinton have any sense of international political or military strategy? Maybe our strategy is just Luttwak's "Strategy of the Roman Empire" warmed over! Keep the frontiers quiet!

Cold War Zoomie

There soon will be war fatigue in the U.S. again.

Nope. Afghanistan isn't even on the RADAR screen. News orgs are more concerned with Obama's teleprompter than anything else. And there will always be missing white women to fill in the gaps.

As for the budget, people who have never worked in the behemoth called The Department of Defense really don't understand the sheer scale of operations we can carry out when we get the machine cranked up to full gear. Millions in DoD are like nickels and dimes to you and me.

William P. Fitzgerald III

Pat Lang,

I agree with the post and with the plan for Afghanistan it describes. Also, Watcher seems to be on to something in his comment concerning the economic viability of Afghan security forces. Should the assumption that USD 670,000,000 would be the cost of sustaining the forces be correct, then an annual subsidy of that amount would be an absolute bargain. The subsidy would relieve the Afghan economy of the burden, accomplish our strategic objective of denying bases to Al Quaeda, and enable the United States to withdraw most of our forces. The initial step of building the Afghan military seems to be in the works with the president's policy announcement. The devil, as always will be in the details, mainly, tribal and ethnic rivalries and corruption.

A subsidy of that size is dwarfed by what we send annually to Israel and would have the virtue of promoting our interests, rather than being useless and, even, detrimental to them.

Furthermore, and a little off the topic, rapprochement with Iran, based on mutual interests, would be very advantgeous in terms of the balance of power in the region.



I was encouraged to read that Obama recognized the need to state an objective for the mission. But then I was VERY disappointed to read that the objective is "disrupting terrorists networks." This is just more BS. Since when does occupying a nation disrupt terrorist networks? (Ask Israel about the occupations of Lebanon, Gaza, and the West Bank.) Occupations spawn terrorism, what Ronald Regan called "freedom fighters" in Afghanistan.

It's time for Obama to come clean about the US' real ambitions in Afghanistan and promote an open debate about America's strategic interests there and whether they are worth spending vast sums of taxpayer money.


Color me childlike in my trepidation of Obama's plan. First, plan being packaged as nation-building. Has nation building been tried and if so, ever worked in Afghan.? It seems like a costly and timely endeavor.

Second - how successfully is the US unwinding its positions in Iraq? Are they really unwinding much or still formulating the plan to unwind?

Third, US is taking another helping of Mideast onto its plate, without digesting how our Iraqi incursion and its impact their military, gov.

Just hope US doesn't run out of money or run into unintended consequences as it seems the stakes are getting higher and citizen fatigue waning.

BTW - saw WTimes reporting that Biden wanted limited US involvement, but that Holbrook, HClinton and Paetrus argued and won for more expansive US role. True? So who was in favor of larger role you outlined -- or was that a strawman the Obama admin put up?

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