Bob Woodward has been given greater access to the White House, than any journalist I can think of, in the George W, Bush and now Obama administrations. His four books about George Bush's pursuit of the war showed an arc from admiration for, to disillusionment with, the pursuit of war, particularly in Iraq.
This is the first, presumably, in a series which will record the Obama administrations efforts to bring the Afghan war to a conclusion. The problem is that there are no clear goals to this war. According to Woodward, General McChrystal, the commander in Afghanistan at the beginning of Obama's term, and Defense Secretary Gates presented President Obama with a series of requests for more troops and an untenable plan to defeat the Taliban. Defeating the Taliban is described, by Woodward, as an impossibility, because they are a non state, like al-Qaeda itself, loose, amorphous and shifting like sand.
Obama ordered a review, asking for options, recognizing the problem with stating that the defeat of the Taliban was problematical, yet all of the options given to him by the military were presented as untenable, with the exception of a large "surge" dedicated to defending the population of Afghanistan from Taliban attack. The Pentagon's own analysis, however, showed that more than 80,000 US troops would be needed to make the entire country safe from Taliban attack, yet this many troops could not be gathered for the effort. The request was for 40,000: half of what was needed to do the job. Another unattainable goal, increasing the Afghan military and police to 400,000, was part of this plan.
Obama asked for options and was given plans for a small deployment of 10,000 to train the Afghan army and the full, but not available 80,000 troops, or a surge of 35,000 instead of 40,000, but with the option to add a few thousand more if needed. Eventually the 35,000 plus plan was what he went for. "Defeating" the Taliban was changed to "degrading" them, making them less capable of causing serious damage in Afghanistan, meanwhile, building a 400,000 strong Afghan military/police to take over as we quietly exit stage left.
July of 2011 was set as the start date of a U.S. draw down. Right now that withdrawal is beginning. This all looks like Nixon's "peace with honor" plan for Vietnam. I expect the fall of Kabul in the next couple of years. Unfortunately, this is probably the best we can do in the situation.
Saturday, July 30, 2011