President Obama: No Troop Reduction in Afghanistan

And no large troop increase immediately, either:

WASHINGTON — President Obama told Congressional leaders on Tuesday that he would not substantially reduce American forces in Afghanistan or shift the mission to just hunting terrorists there, but he indicated that he remained undecided about the major troop buildup proposed by his commanding general.

Meeting with leaders from both parties at the White House, Mr. Obama seemed to be searching for some sort of middle ground, saying he wanted to “dispense with the straw man argument that this is about either doubling down or leaving Afghanistan,” as White House officials later described his remarks.

But as the war approached its eight-year anniversary on Wednesday, the session underscored the perilous crosscurrents awaiting Mr. Obama. While some Democrats said they would support whatever he decided, others challenged him about sending more troops. And Republicans pressed him to order the escalation without delay, leading to a pointed exchange between the president and Senator John McCain of Arizona, his Republican opponent from last year’s election.

Mr. McCain told the president that “time is not on our side.” He added, “This should not be a leisurely process,” according to several people in the room.

A few minutes later, Mr. Obama replied, “John, I can assure you this won’t be leisurely,” according to several attendees. “No one feels more urgency to get this right than I do.”

The president is right: the range of options is larger than either doubling down or withdrawing. However, the point is not entirely a strawman argument, either. His military advisors have provided their considered opinion that, if a strategy of counter-insurgency is to be pursued, they cannot be succcessful without a considerably larger contingent of U. S. forces. A decision whether explicitly or by default not to increase the number of our troops in Afghanistan is arguably a decision to follow a strategy other than counter-insurgency. Deciding to pursue counter-insurgency without the resources to do so would be very imprudent and IMO this president has not exhibited that sort of imprudence to date.

Withdrawal from Afghanistan seems to have been ruled out for now. That will undoubtedly provoke complaints from within the president’s own base which he apparently has decided he can accept at this point. Whether he will pursue the strategy his generals have publicly advocated remains to be seen.

FILED UNDER: General, ,
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.

Comments

  1. Our Paul says:

    It is the old keep your eye on the ball stuff. Right now the ball is the cat fight over health care and the public option. That should be resolved in the next month or two, then he can go public on Afghanistan.

    Then, there is that contested election, with slight possibility that a recount may lead to a run off election…

    And of course there is that great triangle (China, Pakistan, India) with Afghanistan sitting right in the middle. Our good friend, Robert Kaplan, has an Op Ed on this subject in THAT dreadful rag.

    The thing that has attracted me to Obama is that he is a long range thinker. I doubt he is vacillating, and I am sure he understands that Pakistan is the keystone to this whole dilemma. I doubt he would agree with Kaplan’s advice, to wit:

    But as much as we hone our counterinsurgency skills and develop assets for the “long war,” history would suggest that over time we can more easily preserve our standing in the world by using naval and air power from a distance when intervening abroad. Afghanistan should be the very last place where we are a land-based meddler, caught up in internal Islamic conflict, helping the strategic ambitions of the Chinese and others.

    Kind of a strange recommendation, given the fact that he was such a strong proponent for the Iraq invasion, who after all did not have nuclear weapons. India, and Pakistan, ever distrustful of each other, do have such armaments.

    Just make sure that if we have to retreat to a bunker to bring along our dog eared copy of Frank Herbert’s “Dune”.

  2. Triumph says:

    This is typical spineless liberalism.

    There is a simple solution–bomb the crap out of them. Force them from their spider holes, collateral damage be damned.

    We have the most advanced military technology in the history of humanity; unfortunately Obama ain’t got the cojones to use it.

    The result will be more American troop casualities, showing that B. Hussein is seditious and anti-troops.

  3. gustopher says:

    I don’t think that the President’s base is all that anti-Afghan-War — at worst, the base is divided, and whatever Obama does he will get criticism for.

    I am very disappointed that Obama is delaying dealing with this war though. Soldiers will die while Obama delays. There’s no reason we cannot do Health Care and a War simultaneously.

  4. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    First Dave the assumption the President is right. That would be the first time. If the commander on the ground says he needs more troops to win. What is the problem? If the object is to win, give the guys doing the job the tools they need to do the job. Lincoln gave Grant what he needed to win. Roosevelt did the same thing. Truman did not and we did not win in Korea. Johnson gave the men but controlled the war from Washington and we did not win in Viet Nam. Bush gave Stormin Norman what he needed to win. Bush gave Tommy Franks what he needed to do the job. What is Obamas problem?

  5. Davebo says:

    I think that if we decide to double down on Afghanistan he should announce additional troops there will be matched by troop reductions in Iraq.

    There is the question of how many troops we can provide while still maintaining such a large presence in Iraq.

  6. Joe says:

    Please, please, PLEASE stop using phrases such as “IMO.” We’re killing the English language here! Not to mention, I actually had to look up what it meant in an online dictionary.

  7. Maggie Mama says:

    Today we say he’s “searching for some sort of middle ground”. One has a mental picture of a man with his feet firmly planted on the ground, moving forward.

    But I remember when it was called “straddling the fence.” Mental picture was a man, sitting on his a$$, tottering precariously with one leg on each side of the old split-rail wooden fence.

    Texan LBJ took fence sitting to an art form during Nam. Reportedly he once said that “doing the right thing isn’t hard, knowing the right thing to do is”.

    LBJ didn’t make the right choices back then and I’m afraid Obama is too much of a political preservationist to know what “the right thing to do is.”

  8. An Interested Party says:

    LBJ didn’t make the right choices back then and I’m afraid Obama is too much of a political preservationist to know what “the right thing to do is.”

    Oh, do tell all the rest of us what “the right thing to do is”…

  9. Our Paul says:

    Got to tell you this, Maggie Mama: One always has to approach comparing events or decision making process to Viet Nam with caution. The emotional wounds of that war can easily bubble to the surface, and they may not always be on your side…

    The term “searching for some sort of middle ground” is not President Obama’s, but that of the New York Times reporters. The quotation by the reporters of his intent, to wit: “dispense with the straw man argument that this is about either doubling down or leaving Afghanistan,” speaks volumes. Focus on the last three words.

    Robert Kaplan (link in my original comment) advocates moving off shore, and continue a counter terrorism campaign through naval and air power (traditional and drones). Clearly Obama is not considering this option. The reason why lies in the tenuous political situation in Pakistan.

    And there is the “core” of what we face. Counter terrorism, as favored by Joe Biden and Robert Kaplan, or counter insurgency as favored by others. The key question is not which approach is the least burdensome to us, but rather which approach will stabilize a very dangerous area.

    I would try to set your well known antipathy to Obama aside, and spend some time in a risk/benefit analysis of his foreign and domestic policy agenda. You might even engage in a bit decision analysis, it assuredly will help you understand LBJ’s statement which you quote. I will paraphrase it: If you know what the right thing to do is, it sure ain’t hard to do it…

    Pssst 1: Why I disagree with Mr. Kaplan’s solution can be found here, a short series of photographs from the BBC, well worth your perusal.

    Psst #2: Prior to the Presidential ’08 race, an International Treaty to ban cluster bombs was presented to the Senate. With an eye on the Jewish vote, John McCain and Hillary Clinton both voted against the U.S. joining this International ban. Barak Obama, then a Senator, joined the minority voted for implementation of such a ban. A principled vote by a Principled Man.

    It is in this light that you should consider President Obama’s decision making process. Assuredly it does not involve, as you imply, his political survival.

  10. Our Paul says:

    Since my above comment, I have stumbled accross Tom Schaller examination of the Afghanistan problem, presenting a more inclusive view.

    Off to slumber land!

  11. Maggie Mama says:

    Our Paul, yes, discussions of Nam reopen many wounds … but I believe that a majority of those carrying them would agree with me on this:

    An Interested Party, doing the right thing? — A CIC WHO DOESN’T LET HIS TROOPS HANG OUT TO DRY.

  12. Maggie Mama says:

    P.S. A CIC who bases his decision on ground truth.

  13. Anderson says:

    The problem here is that Obama loves to take the middle of the road, and that is the very worst place to be in Afghanistan.

    Getting out 100% leaves problems behind but puts the burden on Iran and Pakistan to straighten the place up, plus saving our troops’ lives.

    Ramping up our commitment is costly and unpopular but offers the only hope of our making a real difference.

    But simply staying in without sufficient commitment, splitting the difference on political grounds, is the worst choice.

  14. G.A.Phillips says:

    Oh, do tell all the rest of us what “the right thing to do is”…

    Carpet bomb a nice wide peace with on border with Pakistan, you know were OBL and company are hiding, then mine it, then patrol it with drones, then send the missionary’s into Afghanistan.

    I would be willing to give some of the little crumbs I have left at my 8 buck an hour job in taxes for more bombs, mines and drones……

  15. Phil Smith says:

    Please, please, PLEASE stop using phrases such as “IMO.” We’re killing the English language here! Not to mention, I actually had to look up what it meant in an online dictionary.

    Joe, I’m afraid you’re SOL.

  16. Our Paul says:

    Many moons ago, Maggie Mama, my pappy told me that if you have a complex problem, you tease out its individual components and examine them to weigh potential solutions, possible risks, and benefits.

    On the other hand, if you have a simple problem, you add layers of complexity so that you are able to foresee possible adverse effects of your decision making process.

    For the life of me, I cannot figure out whether you consider Afghanistan a complex problem, or a simple problem. It has some analogies to Viet Nam, where one of the mantras was “Bombing Back to the Stone Age”, the approach chosen by our own Doctor Strangeglove, G.A.Phillips.

    Obviously brother An Interested Party has misplaced his copy of the American Constitution, CIC (presumably Commander in Chief) job is to evaluate recommendations from the Military, and other interested parties, then decide on a course of action. Without presenting such obvious examples as the Cuban Missal Crisis, I would suggest to you that President Obama is seeking recommendations before choosing a course of action.

    The triangle that I referred to in my first post deserves some consideration as the news today reports an attempted bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul. The Ying Yang of Afghanistan was briefly covered by Mark Ambinder yesterday, worth your read.

    Psst: An extensive and detailed study has shown than folks of color with protruding ears are highly intelligent and favor a carefully weighed approach to problem solving. That fifth kid dressed up as Gandhi that you identified as a potential Obama in the recent Caption Contest has real potential in the future. Did not think you had such a discerning eye, Maggie Mama.

  17. An Interested Party says:

    Obviously brother An Interested Party has misplaced his copy of the American Constitution…

    Not really, Paul, as I agree with you on the role of the president as CIC…

  18. G.A.Phillips says:

    For the life of me, I cannot figure out whether you consider Afghanistan a complex problem, or a simple problem. It has some analogies to Viet Nam, where one of the mantras was “Bombing Back to the Stone Age”, the approach chosen by our own Doctor Strangeglove, G.A.Phillips.

    lol bomb them back to the wood age, their in the stone age, and if you look closely I said were, and how to make it permanent.

    But hey lets go with your idiot liberal president and give the talaban their power back that should appease them.

    lol, Dr. strange glove, thats brilliant, you been peeking in my bedroom window again?….

  19. Maggie Mama says:

    Simple or complex? Good grief, it’s a bloody can of worms. I can simplify quite easily — my primary concern is for the boots on the ground. Support them or pull them out … no hanging around racking up numbers.

    I don’t think that McChrystal would pull a Westmoreland and since Obama indicated back in 2003 Bush should listened to military leaders it appears that would mean an increase in troop numbers.

    Political preservationist — On this we disagree. However, we shall soon see if the waters have really been muddy now with this Nobel Peace Prize … given not for results but FOR GOOD INTENTIONS. Will that affect Obama’s decision-making even more? ? ? ?

    Psst. Obama was the first to reveal his Achilles heel — his ears. He made it “open season”.

    http://www.mediamatters.org/research/200612150012