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False theories create false choices on Afghanistan

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Waltzing McChrystal

False theories create false choices on Afghanistan

Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s request for a buildup of American troops in Afghanistan is being waltzed around the Obama administration as it stalls and ponders in its hope of talking the American commander out of it.

We know that from the fact that the administration has had McChrystal’s main report for over a month, and has stalled his troop request while they prepare a new "strategy." If they were interested in anything other than a phased withdrawal from Afghanistan, the White House would have sought and accepted both McChrystal’s August 30 report and his request for reinforcements so that both could be considered in the internal debates that are supposedly now going on to devise the new strategy.

Reporting an interview with Gen. James Jones, Obama’s National Security Advisor, Bob Woodward of the writes, “Jones said it remains possible that, after a decision on strategy by the president, McChrystal might change his mind about the need for more troops. ‘We will ask General McChrystal, and say, ‘Okay, now that you’ve heard what our strategy is, does this affect your thinking in terms of your resources and, if so, how?’ Jones said.”

But on June 26, Defense Secretary Gates directed yet another full review of the Afghanistan strategy. The result — an August 30 report by Gen. McChrystal — said that:

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 a significant change to our strategy and the way we think and operate.

McChrystal says that, “Our strategy cannot be focused on seizing terrain or destroying insurgent forces; our objective must be the population. In the struggle to gain the support of the people, every action we take must enable this effort.”

Most importantly, McChrystal warns, “Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near term (next 12 months) — while Afghan security capacity matures — risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible.”

Our commander on the ground says that we will win or lose this war in the next twelve months. Our president, according to press reports, is thinking and planning – a necessary process which Obama plans to consume the next several weeks – before deciding to even receive McChrystal’s certain request for tens of thousands more troops.

But it’s quite apparent that the president will waltz McChrystal around for however long it takes him to find a way to deny McChrystal the troops he needs and plan for the phased withdrawal from Afghanistan that Obama wants.

McChrystal is a disciple of Gen. David Petraeus and wants to replicate his mentor’s Iraq strategy in Afghanistan, which is 50% bigger and far more difficult to maneuver in than Iraq. But Petraeus’ success was built upon the Sunni rejection of heavy-handed Al Queda. There is no popular revolt against the Taliban in Afghanistan, only a culture in which dominant local warlords flit from one allegiance to another. It defeated the British in 1842 and the Soviets in 1989.

And the success in Iraq is temporary: the recent major increase in terrorist attacks there – more and more as we withdrew from cities into garrisons — is a portent of far worse to come. If McChrystal’s strategy is pursued, we will be in Afghanistan indefinitely. Which is precisely what Obama wants to avoid.

Obama can fire McChrystal or reject his recommendations, but he cannot ignore him or his report. When our principal commander in Afghanistan — after consultations with Petraeus and others — says we may lose the war against the Taliban within a year, the president has to accept that assessment unless he has better means to determine the situation. And he doesn’t.

The problem is twofold: first, McChrystal’s reference point is his mission, which is confined to Afghanistan. It’s his job to think about how to win in Afghanistan: the larger war – the war that extends from Iraq to Afghanistan and everywhere else the jihadist enemy grows, trains, funds and hides is to use one of the president’s one-time favorite phrases – above his pay grade. It’s the job of his military superiors and the president himself.

Second, Afghanistan isn’t on Obama’s list of priorities, which is entirely domestic. McChrystal wants to make Fort Starke safe for JoAnne Dru. Obama wants to make the world safe for Cate Blanchette and other global warmists by — as he implied in his UN speech — making it safe from American emissions.

Both have it wrong. McChrystal – because his strategy continues us in the strategically defensive posture created by Bush’s nation-building – banks on a strategy that can only succeed temporarily, for as long as we choose to fight the surrogates of the principal enemies, the nations that sponsor terrorism.

George Bush’s inability to define our enemy — and thus to define the objective in the war in Afghanistan and Iraq — is being compounded by Barack Obama. As I wrote on September 12, 2001, and many occasions since our enemies are the nations that sponsor terrorism. Iran, Syria, and the rest. They cannot be defeated by fighting only their surrogates. Until they are forced to stop sponsoring terrorism the war will continue, or we will lose it and with it our way of life.

McChrystal is more right than Obama. Though we cannot win this war in Afghanistan, we can lose enough there to make it impossible to win the rest. If we leave Afghanistan before the Taliban is defeated they will turn it back into what it was in 2001: a nation from which terrorists can mount attacks that cause us great harm.

But for any new strategy to win – there or elsewhere – it must be founded upon the correct definition of who and what the enemy is comprised of, which is beyond the reach of Obama’s thought.

Cartoon by Brett Noel.

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Written By

Mr. Babbin is the former editor of Human Events and HumanEvents.com (Jan 2007-Mar 2010) and served as a deputy undersecretary of defense in President George H.W. Bush's administration. He is the author of "In the Words of our Enemies"(Regnery,2007) and (with Edward Timperlake) of "Showdown: Why China Wants War with the United States" (Regnery, 2006) and "Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe are Worse than You Think" (Regnery, 2004).

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