Thursday, November 12, 2009


Obama's Karzai Konundrum

Eight months ago, President Obama chose General Stanley McChrystal to chart out a new Afghanistan policy. His primary recommendation was for a "surge" of 40,000 more troops.

Wednesday's New York Times outlined three primary strategies for troop increases -- with McChrystal's plan being one of them. :

Three of the options call for specific levels of additional troops. The low-end option would add 20,000 to 25,000 troops, a middle option calls for about 30,000, and another embraces Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s request for roughly 40,000 more troops. Administration officials said that a fourth option was added only in the past few days. They declined to identify any troop level attached to it.

Yet, by Veterans Day night, the real story had leaked out. President Obama was reportedly rejecting all three options presented to him by his foreign policy and national security team. Instead, he wants an approach that takes more into account the entrenched corruption that has oozed out of the Karzai government and now permeates most of Afghanistan.

If Obama thought he had a problem a few weeks ago with former Vice President Dick Cheney accusing him of "dithering" over Afghanistan, he's really risking a public relations nightmare this time -- one that won't be confined just to conservative critics. The three-option plan reflected the viewpoints of not just McChrystal. It also reflected the opinions of administration heavy-hitters like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

Now, instead of just "dithering" in the public Obama runs the risk of appearing not to take the seriously the counsel of any of his advisers -- on a policy that has life-and-death ramifications.

Yes, caution has its place -- especially when the subject is Afghanistan. Obama is also right not to accept the continued status quo of a corruption-accepting Hamid Karzai-run government. But tossing aside the hard work of the best and brightest in his administration is bad politics pursuing bad -- or at least random, amorphous -- policy. The corruption of Karzai has been known for months. That Karzai would probably end up winning the election and remaining in power was also pretty much a sure bet.

So, there's hardly anything known now that wasn't perceived eight months ago. So, why didn't the president articulate exactly what he was looking for then -- rather than have his advisers put forth three complex plans that did little to address his concerns?

Afghanistan has a well-deserved reputation as the "graveyard of empires." It may yet also pick up a new name -- Creator of "Obama the Hapless" as plans AB&C fall by the wayside. Exactly, how far through the alphabet will the White House go before a decision is made on what to do with Afghanistan?

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