Stratfor founder George Friedman reviews our thirty-year war in Afghanistan. I am struck by the notion that what George Bush had been doing is a lot like what Biden was advocating last fall. From Stratfor:
During the Bush administration, U.S. goals for Afghanistan were modest. First, the Americans intended to keep al Qaeda bottled up and to impose as much damage as possible on the group. Second, they intended to establish an Afghan government, regardless of how ineffective it might be, to serve as a symbolic core. Third, they planned very limited operations against the Taliban, which had regrouped and increasingly controlled the countryside. The Bush administration was basically in a holding operation in Afghanistan. It accepted that U.S. forces were neither going to be able to impose a political solution on Afghanistan nor create a coalition large enough control the country. U.S. strategy was extremely modest under Bush: to harass al Qaeda from bases in Afghanistan, maintain control of cities and logistics routes, and accept the limits of U.S. interests and power.
I don't think that is the strategy Bush articulated, but if you judge him by his actions, then maybe - in April 2008 Sec Def Gates was talking about a troop increase in Afghanistan in 2009, but numbers like 7,500 to 10,000 were being tossed around.
Let me excerpt from the section on Obama:
The Obama administration began with the premise that while the Iraq War was a mistake, the Afghan War had to be prosecuted. It reasoned that unlike Iraq, which had a tenuous connection to al Qaeda at best, Afghanistan was the group’s original base. He argued that Afghanistan therefore should be the focus of U.S. military operations. In doing so, he shifted a strategy that had been in place for 30 years by making U.S. forces the main combatants in the war.
In analyzing this strategy, there is an obvious issue: While al Qaeda was based in Afghanistan in 2001, Afghanistan is no longer its primary base of operations. The group has shifted to Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and other countries. As al Qaeda is thus not dependent on any one country for its operational base, denying it bases in Afghanistan does not address the reality of its dispersion. Securing Afghanistan, in other words, is no longer the solution to al Qaeda.
Obviously, Obama’s planners fully understood this. Therefore, sanctuary denial for al Qaeda had to be, at best, a secondary strategic goal. The primary strategic goal was to create an exit strategy for the United States based on a negotiated settlement with the Taliban and a resulting coalition government.
So it's back to the future:
Rather than trying to strengthen the Karzai government, the real strategy is to return to the historical principles of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan: alliance with indigenous forces. These indigenous forces would pursue strategies in the American interest for their own reasons, or because they are paid, and would be strong enough to stand up to the Taliban in a coalition. As CIA Director Leon Panetta put it this weekend, however, this is proving harder to do than expected.
The American strategy is, therefore, to maintain a sufficient force to shape the political evolution on the ground, and to use that force to motivate and intimidate while also using economic incentives to draw together a coalition in the countryside.
On the hokey-pokey surge/withdrawal plan announced by Obama:
Obama’s attempt to return to that track after first increasing U.S. forces to set the stage for the political settlement that will allow a U.S. withdrawal is hampered by the need to begin terminating the operation by 2011 (although there is no fixed termination date). It will be difficult to draw coalition partners into local structures when the foundation — U.S. protection — is withdrawing. Strengthening local forces by 2011 will be difficult. Moreover, the Taliban’s motivation to enter into talks is limited by the early withdrawal.
...Given the time frame the Obama administration’s grand strategy imposes, and given the capabilities of the Taliban, it is difficult to see how it will all work out. But the ultimate question is about the American obsession with Afghanistan. For 30 years, the United States has been involved in a country that is virtually inaccessible for the United States. Washington has allied itself with radical Islamists, fought against radical Islamists or tried to negotiate with radical Islamists. What the United States has never tried to do is impose a political solution through the direct application of American force. This is a new and radically different phase of America’s Afghan obsession. The questions are whether it will work and whether it is even worth it.
Worth it relative to what?