Afghanistan Plan: Designed by a Committee

This morning the New York Times has an interesting article describing the political infighting that lead to the new plan for Afghanistan:

WASHINGTON — President Obama’s plan to widen United States involvement in Afghanistan came after an internal debate in which Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. warned against getting into a political and military quagmire, while military advisers argued that the Afghanistan war effort could be imperiled without even more troops.

All of the president’s advisers agreed that the primary goal in the region should be narrow — taking aim at Al Qaeda, as opposed to the vast attempt at nation-building the Bush administration had sought in Iraq. The question was how to get there.

The commanders in the field wanted a firmer and long-term commitment of more combat troops beyond the 17,000 that Mr. Obama had already promised to send, and a pledge that billions of dollars would be found to significantly expand the number of Afghan security forces.


The debate over the past few weeks offered a glimpse into how Mr. Obama makes decisions. In this case, he chose a compromise between his political and military advisers that some critics say includes some strategic holes, such as a reliance on the same sort of vague guidelines that proved difficult to carry out in Iraq. It also offers insight into the role of Mr. Biden and other members of a foreign policy team that includes many powerful figures vying for Mr. Obama’s attention.

In the end the plan is a compromise that reflected all of the strains of the discussion among his advisers, one that is markedly different, though perhaps no less difficult, from the goals his predecessor set for the region. In speaking of Afghanistan and Iraq, President Bush spoke of lofty goals that included building nations that could stand as models of democracy in the Muslim world.

The picture above represents an artist’s rendering of the White House’s new plan for a horse.

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Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.


  1. Tano says:

    This strikes me as an extremely dumb post.

    First off, the story seems to say that Obama listened to a range of differing advice on the matter and ended up formulating a policy that reflects the strengths of each perspective – a “compromise” in the sense that no one advisor’s vision was implemented in whole.

    This is very different from “policy by committee”. It is, in fact, exactly the process that one would hope would be followed. You would prefer that the president ignored all his advisors? Or chose one who would be seen as completely correct, and the others ignored? IS that your vision of effective leadership?

  2. Tano says:

    Oh, and btw.

    The camel is a marvelously well-adapted organism for its environment. In fact, putting a “well-designed” horse in a desert environment is a pretty good metaphor for the type of disaster one gets when one relies on a Republican to strategize a war.

  3. C Stanley says:

    The shortcoming of ‘design by committee’ is that the concerns that the elements that make the final cut are often the ones that are the most politically viable rather than the ones that mesh together as a workable plan.

    A lot of people have commented favorably on the way Obama makes decisions, basically saying that he listens to all of the opposing sides and then makes up his mind. It’s still too early in my opinion to judge whether or not this is accurate, but I’d say on some major legislation like the stimulus bill he most certainly didn’t display that type of leadership. We ended up with the typical ‘compromises’ which are actually more like bribes (“how much will it take to buy off three GOP senators?”, not “What ideas supported by conservatives would potentially make this a better bill?”)

    It remains to be seen whether or not Obama exercised real leadership AFTER listening to the various views, or if he figured out what he needed to placate each member of the team and then compiled the results.

    Tano: The camel image (I’ve also seen elephant) is just a metaphor- no one is literally saying that these critters were designed by committee, which is why the animal itself isn’t as nonviable as a committee designed plan usually is.

  4. Steve says:

    Who is the source of this leak?

    We would be better served knowing who passed this “information” on. I have my own opinion about the way forward in Afghanistan…that said, this story is about “how the big decisions get made by the guys who make the big bucks”. Color me not in awe.

    Two things I find remarkable, that everyone was in agreement to narrow the objectives. The second, and my guess for the deep throat of this piece is the “star” of the show, Joe Biden. Or, one of his myrmidons.

  5. Michael says:

    Committees have no real incentive to exclude things that one of it’s members wants, so what you usually end up with is an unworkable mess of everyone’s desires that often conflict with each other.

    Compromise, on the other hand, is all about including only those portions of everyone’s ideas that are generally agreeable to the whole, and that do not conflict with the other designs being adopted.

    Committees operate on the inclusion of desires. Compromise is based on the exclusion of desires. Since the portion you quotes makes clear that there was an exclusion of desires in Obama’s plan, I think it’s fair to say it was designed by compromise, not by committee.

  6. steve says:

    Since you criticized Obama here after citing two choices which do you favor? Biden’s get out soon or the military’s all in forever?


  7. steve says:

    Oops, forgot. Wonder what General Jones thought?


  8. Bithead says:

    Who is the source of this leak?

    Well, now, that’s the thing, isn’t it? Given the pattern of leaking stuff as a trial balloon that we have seen from the Clinton administration, it seems logical to assume that precisely the same thing is going on from this administration.