Small Wars Journal

A Wartime President

A Wartime President - Eliot A. Cohen, Wall Street Journal opinion.

When it comes to President Barack Obama's long-awaited decision to send more troops to Afghanistan, there are three main points to consider: the decision itself, the manner in which he made it, and the way in which he sold it. He could not, in the end, have decided on a very different course of action. Having replaced the previous commander in Afghanistan with one of the outstanding soldiers of this generation, how could he deny Gen. Stanley McChrystal's request for some 40,000 troops? To do so would tell the world that Mr. Obama had no confidence in his new commander, a tried veteran of our post 9/11 wars.

However, the White House's decision to send only 30,000 troops, while calling upon our allies for thousands more - perhaps as many as 10,000 - makes little sense. The Europeans have repeatedly revealed their aversion to combat. Only accounting tricks will let the administration claim that they have met these targets, and then only by bringing in inferior forces mostly constrained from real fighting by anxious governments. Should the scheme fail altogether, add one more to a list of occasions upon which America's allies have stiffed this president with impunity. Moreover, the president's protracted deliberations about the war undermined his chosen course of action. On March 27, he proclaimed "a comprehensive, new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan." But when Gen. McChrystal presented the manpower bill for the strategy, it seemed to all the world that the president and his advisers got a bad case of nerves...

More at The Wall Street Journal.


blert (not verified)

Thu, 12/03/2009 - 7:15pm

That NATO 'forces' are a liability is patent.

One can only hope that Germany, et. al. pulls out.

The ONLY player that is a suitable ally in this campaign is India.

Nothing could be more obvious.

Anonymous (not verified)

Thu, 12/03/2009 - 7:34pm

Again excellent points by Mr. Cohen.

While the President did specifically mention that this was not Vietnam, one is inevitibly withdrawn to comparisons. Mr. Cohen makes the comparison with Diem and Karzai. To carry the comparison further, this strategy, at least as articulated by the President, sounds like "Peace with honor." Sending more troops and briefly expanding the war effort will placate the generals, beltway think-tanks, and hawks in both parties thirst for "victory," while ensuring the rapid conclusion of the campaign. Mr. Cohen's point about national honor was crucial as this cause was understated in the speech. We can't loose, not because Afghanistan is strategically important, but because we can't be seen to loose to Muslim extremist anywhere. To do so would be to admit that the worlds largest democracy (and military) is an inferior ideology/system to tribalism and fundamentalist Islam. Or so the thinking goes.

Afghanistan holds no actual strategic value. Only symbolic value, a fact that the President played on in his speech by his frequent refences to 9/11.

Perhaps with "this little bitch of war," to borrow President Johnston's phrase, over, the President will have a free(er) hand to carry out his ambitious domestic adgenda. Sound familiar?