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26 June 2010


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This is a box of the President's own making. As far back as 2007, he's consistently called for resourcing and "winning" the war in Afghanistan. He hasn't wavered from that basic position for over three years now. Petraeus or no Petraeus I don't think he will back down now - at least until his second term, should he win. The political cost would be too great.

Ironically, Petreaus is the one person who could break the President out of that box. He's the one person with the credibility to provide the political cover for an alternative course of action. Everyone assumes Petraeus will follow the large-scale COIN template. They are probably right, but I have hope he will see things differently and promote a cogent and sustainable alternative strategy.

William R. Cumming

Hey! Beware the trust of Princes!
Suppose President Obama did see Petraeus as potential 2012 rival or on GOP ticket. By that date, assuming he has not folded to the pressures causing his collapse while testifying before Congress, I am pretty sure both Iraq and Afghanistan will be lonely crosses on the mountain top with those sacrificed domestic and foreign still mounted on them.

clifford kiracofe

So President Obama listens to whom???

This was the Atlantic Council's take back in March 2008:

"Co-chaired by General (ret.) James L. Jones and Kristin Krohn Devold, the Strategic Advisors Group of the Atlantic Council of the United States wrote this issue brief warning that without urgent policy changes U.S. and international efforts may fail in Afghanistan. The brief addresses the current situation in Afghanistan and offers several policy recommendations to ensure future success there.

Building a functioning Afghanistan is inherently fraught with difficulty. Much of the nation's infrastructure was destroyed by the Soviet occupation and the years of Taliban rule. Despite nearly seven years of reconstruction effort, the situation on the civil side is not improving as expected. The Taliban still control sparsely populated parts of Afghanistan. Civil reforms, reconstruction, and development work have not gained traction across the whole country, especially in the South.

Many of the NATO nations engaged in Afghanistan lack a sense of urgency in comprehending the gravity of the situation and the need for effective action now. And the dangers and difficulties in Afghanistan have been intensified following the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December 2007. Political turmoil in Islamabad could contribute to the porous border that continues to provide a safe haven for Taliban and insurgents to stage attacks into Afghanistan.

These realities lead to two major prescriptions. First, only a regional solution can bring peace, security, and prosperity to Afghanistan. Second, efforts inside Afghanistan must be coordinated and integrated, in the first instance with a "high commissioner" given the appropriate authority by the UN Security Council to carry out this integration, to develop a regional approach to Afghan problems, and to implement a comprehensive plan of action."

Now that it is getting on July 2010...

John Badalian

Colonel Patrick - If Success in Afganistan is unattainable, at least what will the Appearance of Success look like?
And, could you see by 2012 General Petraeus as the Sect. of Defense and/or the Democratic Vice-Presidential Nominee?
Thank you! John

Patrick Lang


Continued progress will be claimed. That will probably be a true claim. What will not be stated clearly is how far away the "goalposts" will remain.

If his health holds up I would think that Petraeus will still be in Kabul. Obama needs him there. pl


The "gravel" of Iraqi society was of sufficient size to allow the liberators to pour a foundation for the "reformed" state that just might hold long enough for them to get out the door before the whole edifice falls. Such is not the case in Afghanistan.
Even an "England in 900 AD" analogy doesn't really hold; loyalties in Affie rarely run beyond the next ridge line and there's enough squabbling within their folk-based faith(s) to keep the pot simmering for a long, long time -- even more so once the common foe (du jour) gets up from the table.

Cold War Zoomie

I'm giving up on our institutions. The government, especially Congress, are failing us. Many of the churches are failing us, concentrating on wedge issues rather than helping in our communities. Corporate America is selling us out. Wall Street has failed us. The "mainstream" media have failed us.

We have become a country that cannot accomplish anything.

Can you imagine us putting a man on the moon in the current political and economic environment?

Hell, we can't even keep our bridges from crumbling into disrepair.

Makes me want to just lock myself in the house and drink all day.


Is Patraeus's political ambitions still there or muted?

Because if he can turn the 2nd fiasco into a face saving "win" like Iraq, he's a shoo in for prez?

I'd be wary of these folks especially if I were a politician.

Patrick Lang


It must be interesting to view this from Madras or Hyderabad or wherever.

DP is confronting his mortality. Who knows what that has done to "ambition."

He cannot leave the assignment in Afghanistan, nor can he retire without Obama's permission.

Success in Afghanistan? What would that be? pl


Col. Lang:

I’m having difficulty intuiting what you mean by “President Obama will change his policy on Afghanistan.” Isn’t Sullivan suggesting that Petraeus’ refusal to concede the impossibility of success will make it impossible for him to reframe his thinking?

If that’s true how do you see the policy changing as a result of the December review if Obama stubbornly backs Petraeus who is expected to continue to remain unrealistically convinced that success in Afghanistan is possible?

That would make the December review nothing more than another opportunity for the government to jigger the data to fit the required solution. Water again will run uphill.

I hope that’s not the case.


The News Hour had quite a "Homage to Patraeus" last night, complete with one of the Kagan clan giving what sounded like a stock "He walks on water" PP presentation.

The Twisted Genius

Success in Afghanistan would be getting the hell out of there. Perhaps Obama and Petraeus can begin a campaign to rehabilitate the Taliban in the minds of the American people. Let's put all those information warriors and perception managers to work on this. They have to be bored creating all those PowerPoint shows proclaiming their marvelous capabilities. If we really want to leave that place, I'm sure we can come up with a reasonable "narrative" to support getting out. My guess is that there will be more than enough regional and internal meddling and intrigue in Afghanistan to cause the locals to soon forget all about us. Maybe our real problem is that we cling to the old saying, "Love, hate me, but just don't ignore me."


Borrowing money from China to pay for Oil in Saudi Arabia, while half heartedly waging a hands tied war in Afghanistan reminds me of the old saw, "Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is one definition of insanity". DP's political and diplomatic savvy is likely to keep the war out of the news as much as possible so that the public will continue to yawn, unlike the outcry which got us out of Vietnam. It's about there being no draft folks.

Patrick Lang


The "change" will be the effective removal of the July, 2011 deadline. pl


"Success in Afghanistan? What would that be? pl"

A modified Counterterrorism policy with Major Gant's Green Beret style plan to allow the farmers to stand and fight for themselves.

It is reported of discontent between Taliban leaders and its field forces though it seems since they are close to their goal of the US out their holding together for now. I wonder how ties would hold if faced with setbacks? Would an offensive that was punitive (hitting Talib forces in staging areas etc.) be possible for the US, thereby allowing both sides a face saving draw at the negotiating table?

As for tribal warfare in Pashtun culture, is it necessary to kill the one you are fighting with or just give a good showing in the feud before making ammends?

I agree with Andy, if the US wants to change policy, then David Petreaus would be the one to make it palatable for all sides in the US.


I think we all need to realize we're hostage to the massive debt we've built up over the past 10 years.

God I hate to say this, but we need to start looking at all our overseas commitments as an "us or them" question. That is: can we justify spending this money on others when our own needs - and our deficit - are so great?

I was reminded of this week about bin Laden's words about bankrupting America. This was at CNN.com, from a October 2004 video:

"We are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy. Allah willing, and nothing is too great for Allah," bin Laden said in the transcript.

He said the mujahedeen fighters did the same thing to the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s, "using guerrilla warfare and the war of attrition to fight tyrannical superpowers."

"We, alongside the mujahedeen, bled Russia for 10 years until it went bankrupt and was forced to withdraw in defeat," bin Laden said.

He also said al Qaeda has found it "easy for us to provoke and bait this administration."

"All that we have to do is to send two mujahedeen to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al Qaeda, in order to make generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic and political losses without their achieving anything of note other than some benefits for their private corporations," bin Laden said.

Back then that seemed like a laughably foolish threat, now it's more like an unheeded warning.

Whether we have much to show for it or not, we've spent many billions already in Iraq and Afghanistan and the piggy bank is empty. All options cannot be on the table anymore. I hope everyone realizes this in the year ahead, the decisionmakers in Washington as well as the public.


For a bit different interpretation I recommend this piece of the British blogger at Defence of the Realm: Obama stuffs the military

In what must rate of a stroke of political genius, Obama has seen off the challenge by the US military over Afghanistan and, by firing McChrystal and appointing his boss Gen David Petraeus, has dumped the problem back in their laps and told them to get on with it.
What we have been seeing is a huge amount of thrashing about, as commentators struggle and largely fail to make sense of recent events, not realising that this was most likely a deliberate ploy by McChrystal to destabilise Obama and dump the blame for a failing campaign in the lap of the president.

As such, it is most unlikely that McChrystal's quite deliberate and studied coup de main was done without the knowledge and acquiescence (if not approval) of his boss.

By appointing Petraeus to take over from his uppity subordinate – effectively a demotion – Obama demonstrates the skills acquired and honed as a street-fighting Chicago politician. He has reasserted control over – as The Guardian puts it – a politicised military, with the generals out of control.

That sounds about right to me. Especially the demotion of Petreaus from CentCom to Afghanistan, unheard of, is what makes me think this is the real take.

Mike Martin, Yorktown, VA

Two questions, if I may:

- Has anyone else heard the term "Money as a Weapon System" which I understand is a major piece of COIN a la Petraeus?

- Will Petraeus remain commander of CENTCOM? If yes, any ideas how much of the staff will move to Afghanistan on that account?


Zoomie, at least leave the door unlocked... shared commiseration may be our best hope for national consensus.

Patrick Lang


I would agree that this clique of generals, all graduated from USMA in the mid-70s are highly political. They have been encouraged in this by the Cheney crowd, the COIN think tankers like Nagl and Exum and the neocons like the the Kagans. The intention has been to "jam" Obama over the July, 2011 date, but I do not agree that this latest was a deliberate ploy. These generals do not sacrifice themselves as your analysis would have McChrystal doing. No, it was the result of arrogance, pure and simple. pl

Patrick Lang


DP COULD change the policy (deceptively of course) but I now think that neither he nor Obama are capable of admitting to a mistake. pl


I'm back because I realized I left a false impression by focusing on money in my first post.

There other compelling reasons to reduce our current commitments.

One is national security. I know I think that once we're out of Iraq and Afghanistan, we won't get into any big conflicts for a long time. But of course that is me turning my wish into an assumption. It's an assumption made by most of us civilians, though.

Almost 10 years of warfare have ground up our equipment and our soldiers. If we keep going and going and grinding and grinding, then something else unexpectedly happens -- what will we do?

It's in our interests to give the military a cool-down and regroup phase as soon as possible.

Something else that's bothering me is that we've sent the same people back, over and over, for such long deployments with reduced time back home. We don't know what effect this will have on these people but so far the indications are not good.

It seems to me that in a lot of ways we've failed our soldiers over and over since 2001. They've made the sacrifices when their president cut taxes and told people to show their patriotism by shopping.

We've been treating our own soldiers like mercenaries and we need to stop taking them for granted.

We should at least try to deserve the military that's done so much for us, not kick them in the teeth and send them back out again.



I understand what you are saying. What I mean by change the policy is actually telling the truth in the upcoming Dec review: "After extensive evaluation of the situation on the ground the conditions are not conducive to proceed with the current strategy...". David's recent bout with mortality may lead him to check the ego and properly assess the issue.

My view of the July 2011 date was a marker put down by Obama for when he will decide on the future course (as a civilian leader should). The December review would push up the decision. And being forthright with the US public on the issue would earn him respect.

But as the past few National Journal articles have shown, D.C. is inhabited by Careerists with an Imperial mindset. Though as you once stated one should not give in to despair, I look forward to rationality finally snapping that mindset.

I think I'll join Cold War Zoomie and have a drink(s). Perhaps the sun will rise to a better day tomorrow.


Success in Afghanistan? What would that be?

I haven't a clue. The question makes me realize it.

What is it that the US needs in Afghanistan? Or what does the US need in the region?

Is there an official iteration of a set of needs, in order of priority? Besides the endless discussions about strategies and the tactics of success, and whether success is possible, these debates which fly daily through the media and the political spheres, where are the discussions of what US/ISAF are trying to achieve? Not pipedreams but hard aims.

As PL says: what would success in Afghanistan be?

When I try to imagine "success," my mind runs in loops. I don't know what the strategic aims are.

They must be greater than simply denying al-Queda and anti-American terrorists a base in Afghanistan. The costs are so high, the battle so long. Wouldn't some arrangement, more limited than controlling the whole country, be adequate to deny aQ re-entry into Afghnstn? How important is any one country to aQ and such groups?

If denying territory to aQ is not the sole purpose, are there other geopolitical aims? Can we draw distinctions between what is needed and what is most desirable? Then consider resources and options.

The answers cannot be unknown, but somehow I missed an explanation. What are the needs? What are the assumptions?

Maybe I'm the only one confused by this. When I ask friends, they simply answer "to keep terrorists from attacking". Maybe that is enough cause. Am I the only one who finds that vague and not very useful?

I always look forward to visiting this site because of the knowledge, canny insights, varied perspectives, and civil tone of the host and the commenters. Perhaps some of you will shine a light into my uncertainty now.

Nancy K

Cold War Zombie, I agree with you, our leaders are failing us, our churches are failing us, and many of our fellow countrymen seem to have lost their minds. Hears to you.

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