Obama's Skeptic in Chief

Obama's Skeptic in Chief - David Ignatius, Washington Post opinion.

With President Obama finally ready to announce his decision about Afghanistan, it's a good time to examine the role played by Vice President Biden, who emerged during the policy review as the administration's in-house skeptic - the "questioner in chief," as one insider puts it. Biden has been the point man in challenging some premises of Gen. Stanley McChrystal's strategy, according to civilian and military officials involved in the review. He was dubious about committing more troops when the administration announced its initial strategy in March, and over the months his doubts came to be shared, increasingly, by the president. Biden's questions sometimes peeved advocates of the military buildup - one official describes a process of discussion that resembled bashing a pií┬▒ata - and they added weeks of delay.

But administration officials argue that the review, protracted and painful as it has been, will produce an Afghanistan policy that can better withstand public scrutiny. Obama is still working on the final details, and one participant describes the narrow balance as "51-49." Officials predict that he will send some additional troops to secure Afghanistan's population centers, though probably not the full 40,000 McChrystal requested. Obama's support for the mission will be hedged and time-limited, as Biden has urged. Biden won his case against an open-ended commitment to a policy that, as even its strongest advocates concede, may not work. Instead, the president appears to have embraced Biden's demand for a "proof of concept" to test the strategy in the populated regions where the United States added troops this year. The time limit for this experimentation isn't clear yet, but it's likely to be less than the three to five years US commanders think is needed...

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