Not to tell the Administration how to do its job, but this from the WaPo is somewhat terrifying:
President Obama has asked senior officials for a province-by-province analysis of Afghanistan to determine which regions are being managed effectively by local leaders and which require international help, information that his advisers say will guide his decision on how many additional U.S. troops to send to the battle.
Obama made the request in a meeting Monday with Vice President Biden and a small group of senior advisers helping him decide whether to expand the war. The detail he is now seeking also reflects the administration's turn toward Afghanistan's provincial governors, tribal leaders and local militias as potentially more effective partners in the effort than a historically weak central government that is confronting questions of legitimacy after the flawed Aug. 20 presidential election.
Obama had a strategy review in March, with a suggestion that some issues would be deferred until after the Afghan election in August. Now October is winding down and the Community Organizer-in-Chief wants charts and maps of the various communities to be organized and estimates of the number of activists troops required to do so.
I am not so bold as to suggest that the Afghanistan problem is even harder than getting the asbestos out of Altgeld Gardens. But it seems awfully late in the process for Obama to be operating at this level of detail. If we settled on a counterinsurgency strategy in March, surely it occurred to people at the time that we ought to have a review of our prospective local partners.
Please tell me that it has not just dawned on Obama in late October that we will be working with "Afghanistan's provincial governors, tribal leaders and local militias as potentially more effective partners" that the Karzai government in Kabul - working with the locals was a basic part of the successful surge in Iraq and had to have been a basic part of the strategy in Afghanistan.
Either Obama has known of these partnerships for months but is no longer confident delegating that level of detail down the chain of command (troubling), or this is news to Obama (terrifying). Obama is not stupid, so I am guessing this means he has lost confidence in his generals. That's Kennedyesque! (Always a good thing for Dems.) Another possibility is that Obama is deeply unsettled about what to do and is flailing about and micromanaging as an alternative to making a decision.
Any loss of confidence may be mutual:
"There are a lot of questions about why McChrystal has identified the areas that he has identified as needing more forces," said a senior military official familiar with the review, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the deliberations candidly. "Some see it as an attempt by the White House to do due diligence on the commander's troop request. A less charitable view is that it is a 5,000-mile screwdriver tinkering from Washington."
Since Obama is going to abandon this war anyway, it might be prudent for him to do so now.
FLAW WITH THE SURGE ANALOGY: This is interesting:
McChrystal has advocated something far closer to a nation-building project. Some Republican supporters of the general's plan in Congress have compared his strategy to the 2007 "surge" of U.S. troops in Iraq, a shorter-term effort that helped pull the country back from sectarian civil war.
But administration officials reject the comparison, pointing out that McChrystal's troop request would require a far longer deployment of U.S. forces and that Afghanistan is in a less dire position than Iraq was at the time of the surge.
Most important, administration officials say, the violence in Afghanistan is directed against U.S. forces rather than among Afghans. In Iraq, much of the pre-surge violence involved Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites fighting for control of the state, which gave the U.S. military a clearer role in protecting Iraqi civilians.
"There are some areas of the country that will fight us and fight the Taliban just because we are there," Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), a member of the Armed Services Committee, told reporters Wednesday.
Afghanistan fought a civil war for years before the Taliban gained power, so they must have some flair for finding internal foes. However, the WSJ is running a guest piece making a similar point:
From the beginning of 2007 to March 2008, the 82nd Airborne Division's strategy in Khost proved that 250 paratroopers could secure a province of a million people in the Pashtun belt. The key to success in Khost—which shares a 184 kilometer-long border with Pakistan's lawless Federally Administered Tribal Areas—was working within the Afghan system. By partnering with closely supervised Afghan National Security Forces and a competent governor and subgovernors, U.S. forces were able to win the support of Khost's 13 tribes.
Today, 2,400 U.S. soldiers are stationed in Khost. But the province is more dangerous.
I see a chicken and egg puzzle here - did we add more troops in response to an increased insurgent presence, or did we add more troops for some other reason, thereby attracting insurgents? This does not really answer me:
Raids by the paratroopers under the leadership of Lt. Col. Scott Custer were extremely rare because the team had such good relations with the tribes that they would generally turn over any suspect. These good tribal relations were strengthened further by meeting the communities' demands for a new paved road, five schools, and a spring water system that supplies 12,000 villagers.
Yet security has deteriorated in Khost, despite increases of U.S. troops in mid-2008. American strategy began to focus more on chasing the insurgents in the mountains instead of securing the towns and villages where most Khostis live.
The insurgents didn't stick around to get shot when they saw the American helicopters coming. But the villagers noticed when the roads weren't built on time and the commanders never visited.
If we added troops to chase insurgents we had previously ignored, then we brought this upon ourselves. If we added troops to chase insurgents who were new to the area, the lesson would be different.
PILING ON: Snark piles up around the web. Here is Michael Crowley of TNR:
Obama wants a study of the country at a micro-level. That seems reasonable enough in the abstract--but it's also coming a bit late. This, too, wasn't done during that January-March review? It also signals something less than a vote of total confidence in the judgment of the top U.S. commander on the ground, Stanley McChrystal.
Jennifer Rubin of Commentary:
Searching For A Different Answer
The White House seminars on the Afghanistan war are continuing. The term papers assigned this quarter include a “province-by-province analysis of Afghanistan to determine which regions are being managed effectively by local leaders and which require international help, information that his advisers say will guide his decision on how many additional U.S. troops to send to the battle.” But there is a hint as to where this is headed. The military commanders are being phased out and the political appointees are taking charge...
And Jules Crittenden:
The Hero of Altgeld Gardens* asks for a province-by-province analysis of Afghanistan to help decide where, whether, he’ll deploy his troops. Washington Post...
...Two months and half-a-dozen meetings in, the old warhorse is taking the bull by the horns. Either McChrystal didn’t do his job, or they suddenly decided they want to check his homework. Or, in order to avoid another Vietnam, Obama’s taken a page from LBJ’s book and decided to start running the war from the White House.
And a classic exhortation to inspire our White House team:
"I love the smell of Magic Markers in the morning!”