Didn't Obama announce a bold new strategy for Afghanistan last March? Yes he did! So why is he all waffley now? Changing circumstances, changing polls, who knows? [Leslie Gelb ponders this mystery even more deeply, as do the WaPo editors.]
Gen. McChrystal wants more troops to provide the capability for a real counterinsurgency strategy oriented towards protecting the Afghan population. Is this so different a goal from last March?
Last March Obama's political objective seemed to be to spin his "new" approach as a step away from Bush's misison creep and extravagant nation-building. Obama explained:
The Times played along:
And here is National Security Advisor Gen. Jones explaining the new focus the next day:
GEN JONES: Well, I think that first of all, all contributions are very, very much appreciated. And we have long since recognized, I think, the incredible courage that our men and women in uniform and civilians have played throughout Afghanistan.
Commanders – and I was one, but commanders always have a strong desire to ask for what they think they need. Obviously, that’s – it would be irresponsible not to. And then – but we haven’t always been able to provide that for one reason or the other. But I would think that -- in this particular case, that while military contributions are always welcome, that this new focus on capacity building, on trainers for the Afghan army, on trainers for the “gendarmerie” (ph.) type of capacity in Afghanistan; these are the things that need to be done. We need a more robust Afghan army and police so that the Afghans can take over the countryside and provide that permanent security blanket that will preclude the terrorists from coming back.
We need more engineers. We need more irrigation projects. We need more teachers. We need more schools. We need more hospitals. And it needs to be prioritized in a way that – within the international community. When you think of all of the organizations that are there – the EU, NATO, the UN, the IMF, the World Bank, and you think of all of the NGOs that are there and all of the countries that are trying to do wonderful things; if we achieve that coordination under the leadership of the United Nations with the support of the Secretary General and his representative in Kabul, a very fine and distinguished diplomat, Ambassador Kai Eide of Norway -- if we can get that same cohesion and organization in the civilian side as we have on the military side, then I think you’ll see some dramatic shifts in the progress that we can make in Afghanistan. And that’s really the goal, is to do on the civilian side, identify the requirements and organize ourselves internationally in such a way to provide those things in a prioritized way so that we can make a difference.
That's total focus on disrupting Al Qaeda, all right.
Last March Obama wanted to pretend he was doing something different from Bush; fine, whatever. But now he seems to want a do-over on the "Don't call it nation-building while we rebuild the nation" plan he put out last spring.