The White House opposes its top general’s plan to request a significant amount of additional troops for Afghanistan and is studying ways to change the strategy so the current force level can do the job — at least on paper.
The cold shoulder toward Gen. Stanley McChrystal comes even as he has sent a confidential report to the White House saying the situation in Afghanistan is "deteriorating."
"The White House does not want to increase troops in Afghanistan but are concerned about over ruling a unified senior military on the issue," a former senior Pentagon official involved in the process told HUMAN EVENTS. "Thus the delay."
The "delay" is in Gen. Stanley McChrystal submitting a new troop request to Washington. It is complete, but sits in Kabul for now.
"We’re working through the process by which we want that submitted," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said.
Adm. Michael Mullen, Joint Chiefs chairman, has warmed to the idea of more troops, even if his bosses have not.
President Obama is sending rhetorical signals to McChrystal in Afghanistan that he frowns on the prospect of further escalations.
"There is no immediate decision pending on resources," Obama said Sept. 16 in remarks seen within the military as downplaying the urgency in Afghanistan.
And Sunday, during a round of appearances on Sunday talk shows, he hinted the next Afghanistan strategy will narrow objectives.
“There’s a natural inclination to say if ‘I get more then I can do more.’ But right now the first question is ‘Are we doing the right thing? Are we pursuing the right strategy,’” Obama said on CNN.
And Defense Secretary Gates said last week that, "I just think that, given the importance of the decisions that the president faces, we need to take our time and get this right."
But the train has left the station. First, top Washington think tank heavyweights were invited to Afghanistan to survey the eight-year war against the Taliban. To them, the situation had deteriorated to the point where at least 20,000 more troops are needed, primarily in the south in and around Helmand Province.
Meanwhile, McChrystal did his own thinking after arriving in July and came to the same conclusion. To defeat the Taliban, he must take and hold villages. The current top line of 68,000 American troops, which includes 21,000 reinforcements Obama did approve, are not enough.
Sources said the White House is examining using McChrystal’s Aug. 30 strategy paper as a mechanism to change presidential guidance on what can be achieved in Afghanistan, or change the overall strategy. This way, Obama would deny the request based on the new road map.
Military sources told HUMAN EVENTS they have seen no evidence the White House has muzzled McChrystal. But it has offered a cold shoulder, issuing a number of public remarks that indicate a new troop boost request is not wanted.
At the heart of the matter is spending. The White House has figured in big savings in defense spending over the next five years, creating more money for the president’s big domestic programs, primarily health care. Those savings come from, No. 1, terminating weapons programs, and, No. 2, bringing troops home from Iraq.
The White House has yet to introduced a five-year defense budget, as is the normal practice. But the White House budget office did put out top line figures that show overall arms and war spending will drop from $692.7 billion next year to $620.5 billion in 2011.
But if troops freed up in Iraq simply move to Afghanistan, war costs will go up, not down, as will the huge federal deficit. And Obama’s whopping health care bill would likely run into more detractors on Capital Hill.
McChrystal’s confidential Aug. 30 strategy paper to the White House says the U.S. risks losing the war if more troops are not introduced.
His commander’s summary is straight forward:
"The situation in Afghanistan is serious; neither success nor failure can be taken for granted. Although considerable effort and sacrifice have resulted in some progress, many indicators suggest the overall situation is deteriorating. We face not only a resilient and growing insurgency; there is also a crisis of confidence among Afghans in both their government and the international community that undermines our credibility and emboldens the insurgents. Further, a perception that our resolve is uncertain makes Afghans reluctant to align with us against the insurgents.
"Success is achievable, but it will not be attained simply by trying harder or ‘doubling down’ on the previous strategy. Additional resources are required, but focusing on force or resource requirements misses the point entirely. The key take away from this assessment is the urgent need for significant change to our strategy and the way that we think and operate."
McChrystal’s formal troop request is done, his spokesman, Lt. Col. Edward Sholtis, told Human Events.
"Given the importance of the decisions involved, there’s good reason for ensuring the relevant officials have had time to review the strategic approach outlined in the assessment before deciding on resources," he said. "The resource request has been completed, and we’re currently working through the process by which we want that submitted with DOD and NATO. "
Obama, who issued a new war strategy for Afghanistan just six months ago, has signaled he will change it again.
"One of the things that I’m absolutely clear about is you have to get the strategy right and then make the determinations about resources," he said last week. "You don’t make determinations about resources, and certainly you don’t make determinations about sending young men and women into battle, without having absolute clarity about what the strategy’s going to be."
Anthony Cordesman, a Center for Strategic and International Studies analyst who went to Afghanistan, has rebuked the White House for vetoing McChrystal’s request before it even arrives.
"Quite frankly, it would probably be just as well if people in the National Security Council and the White House made their judgments after they get the assessment they need rather than try to resource constrain an assessment in a way that can lose the war," he told reporters.