Here's a sampling of some early reaction - and in no particular order - to General Stanley A. McChrystal's COMISAF's Initial Assessment - released last night and posted by The Washington Post.
The Clock is Ticking - Tom Donnelly, AEI / CDS: Bob Woodward's story in today's Washington Post summarizes the Afghanistan "assessment" of Gen. Stanely McChrystal. It's a good get by the dean of Washington insiders, but the report has been ripening in the Indian summer sun since August 30 and its main points--including the need for more troops - are hardly news. What is remarkable is how long it's taking for the president to make up his mind.
The Case for More Boots on the Ground - David Wood, Politics Daily: In the sputtering debate about Afghanistan and what to do about the war, I haven't heard anyone advocate surrendering to the Taliban. What I have heard are lots of thoughts about how to make the war less painful, at least for us. Force the allies to do more. Train the Afghans to fight in our place. Cut back our own forces, just a bit. Find a cheaper way to fight, one that doesn't involve so darned many American troops. I particularly like this last one, because it feeds into the fantasy that superior American technology can overcome any adversary almost bloodlessly, especially the bearded primitives of Afghanistan.
Gulliver In Afghanistan - Andrew Sullivan, The Daily Dish: General McChrystal is to be congratulated, it seems to me, for the candor and seriousness of his report to the president on what has gone so wrong in Afghanistan and what can be done to set it right. McChrystal's role is to find a way to win: he's a soldier fighting a war. And yet this hardest of hard-nosed military men essentially concedes that this is a political problem at its heart. You cannot fight a counter-insurgency on behalf of a government that is as corrupt as Karzai's.
The Odd Optics of the 'Strategic Review' - Marc Lynch, Abu Aardvark: I must confess to finding the entire exercise baffling. The "strategic review" brought together a dozen smart (mostly) think-tankers with little expertise in Afghanistan but a general track record of supporting calls for more troops and a new counter-insurgency strategy. They set up shop in Afghanistan for a month working in close coordination with Gen. McChrystal, and emerged with a well-written, closely argued warning that the situation is dire and a call for more troops and a new counter-insurgency strategy. Shocking. Were it not for the optics of a leaked "strategic review" amidst an intensifying public debate, I doubt this would dominate the front pages.
The Afghanistan Strategic Review - Judah Grunstein, World Politics Review: Most of its principle elements have already emerged since July, but to see them finally gathered and presented in a coherent draft helps clarify the assessment of where things stand. Curiously, I was most impressed and encouraged by the discussion of the Afghan insurgency's strengths (pp. 2-5/2-8). I found myself thinking that, despite all of the insurgency's recent advances, our understanding of its various strands, how they overlap, and their lines of operation seems sophisticated enough to render aggressive kinetic operations effective.
What Strategy? This Strategy - Max Boot, Contentions: Keep in mind that this is the assessment of the administration's handpicked general, who was brought in to replace a competent but uninspiring incumbent; he was judged the best man for the job. General McChrystal has done what was expected of him. He has delivered a cogent and impressive review of the situation, one that lays out his new strategy. Now he is simply waiting for the resources needed to execute that strategy. Without those resources, the "likely result," he warns, is "failure." Yes, one might prefer that debate take place according to a set of rules from a fabled age of civility, where politics stopped at the water's edge, generals were unfailingly deferential to civilian political leadership, and nothing was ever leaked to the press.
Debating Afghanistan: Beyond the McChrystal Leak - James Joyner, The New Atlanticist: Still, the tide has certainly shifted, with the Washington consensus that "winning" in Afghanistan is necessary having given way to serious doubts about whether "winning" is even possible - or even if we know what it means. Inertia and calls from respected generals for more troops to "finish what we've started" will likely prevail in the short run but, absent a rapid change in perception, it will be incumbent on the pro war side to make the case for staying the course.
And by "Strategy," We Meant... - Tim Sullivan, AEI / CDS: So what gives? It can only be assumed that the president's strategic objectives have shifted, or that the administration is somehow dissatisfied with elements of the military plan conceived by Gen. McChrystal. As Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Karen DeYoung suggest in today's Post, it's likely some combination of the two.
To Look Good Or To Feel Good? - Jules Crittenden, Forward Movement: Don't forget the rest of the world and all of our allies and enemies out there, also paying attention. Our last big fashion faux pas, Vietnam, was all over us like a cheap suit for decades. Right up to Sept. 11, 2001. The problem is, the decision is still in the hands of people who have signalled that they can't tell the different between looking good and feeling good.
Bob Woodward Strikes Again! - Peter Feaver, Shadow Government: It is not good to have a document like this leaked into the public debate before the President has made his decision. Whether you favor ramping up or ramping down or ramping laterally, as a process matter, the Commander-in-Chief ought to be able to conduct internal deliberations on sensitive matters without it appearing concurrently on the front pages of the Post. I assume the Obama team is very angry about this, and I think they have every right to be.
General McChrystal's Report on Afghanistan and External Influences - Bill Roggio, Threat Matrix: There are a couple of redacted sections of the report that would have made interesting reading, such as information on Taliban operations and the groups' command and control, and Taliban control throughout the country. One part of the report that will get lost in the inevitable political debate on the Afghan surge will be McChrystal's assessment of "External Influences" on Afghanistan. The assessments are brief but reinforce the available information on the safe havens in Pakistan and the ISI's role in aiding the Taliban, as well as the role of Iran's Qods Force in training and arming elements of the Taliban.
Why Does McChrystal Need More Troops for Afghanistan? - Gordon Lubold, Christian Science Monitor: McChrystal's apparent answer is that the US must mount a proper counterinsurgency effort. In the bumper-sticker parlance of counterinsurgency, coalition forces must clear, hold, and build. To do that, the US and its allies must protect the population, weed out the insurgency that attempts to grow among it, and train an indigenous security force to ultimately take over the mission. Afghanistan has long been an "under-resourced" mission, McChrystal says. This prevents coalition forces from being able to "hold" an area after clearing it. That creates a vacuum the insurgency can once again fill.
Winning Afghan Hearts and Minds - Patrick Walters, The Australian: Primarily, the war requires more coalition troops, and soon, if the military initiative is to be regained and the Taliban insurgency thwarted. McChrystal's conclusion is that the overall situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating and that without a clear step-up and an overhaul of strategy and tactics, the US-led coalition cannot succeed. McChrystal's 66-page study was completed late last month and leaked to The Washington Post yesterday. At the core of McChrystal's bleak assessment is the view that US strategy in Afghanistan cannot only be focused on seizing terrain or destroying Taliban insurgents.
The McChrystal Report: A Make or Break Moment for Obama - Michael Goldfarb, Weekly Standard: It's probably not a coincidence that the McChrystal report leaked just as Obama looked like he was going wobbly on his commitment to the war effort. Democrats on the Hill are already threatening to obstruct funding for additional US forces - Pelosi, Levin, and Murtha among them - and Obama was skeptical of the need for more US forces on the Sunday shows yesterday. "I don't want to put the resource question before the strategy question," Obama told CNN's John King. "Because there is a natural inclination to say, if I get more, then I can do more. But right now, the question is, the first question is, are we doing the right thing? Are we pursuing the right strategy?"
Now That the McChrystal Strategy Review Has Leaked ... - Spencer Ackerman, Washington Indpendent: McChrystal can't be faulted for presuming that Obama's commitment in March to a counterinsurgency campaign for a counterterrorism goal meant he should interpret counterinsurgency as broadly as he could or pursue it as aggressively as he could. Nor can the administration be faulted for worrying that such commitments push the means into overtaking the ends they're supposed to yield. And the public can't be faulted for turning away from a war that exhibits such strategic drift. But the leak of the strategy review means it's now harder for everyone to make rational decisions without worrying whether their bureaucratic adversaries are going to undermine them in the media.
It is 'Fish or Cut Bait" Time - McQ, Blackfive: Note that the word used is "success", not "victory". I'm not one to quibble about those words. Victory is used in a military sense. Victory is success. But we all know that while the military is an integral part of any success we might have there, ultimately it can't "win" the day by itself. Success will be defined as leaving a sovereign nation capable of governing and defending itself when we eventually leave. We may not like that definition, we may not like the fact that we're again engaged in nation building and we may not like the fact that such an endeavor is going to take years, possibly decades to achieve - but that is the situation we now find ourselves in. If we were to abandon Afghanistan now, we'd see it quickly revert to the state it was in 2001 - ruled by Islamic fundamentalists and a safe-haven for our most avowed enemies.
McChrystal to Resign if Not Given Resources for Afghanistan - Bill Roggio, Threat Matrix: Within 24 hours of the leak of the Afghanistan assessment to The Washington Post, General Stanley McChrystal's team fired its second shot across the bow of the Obama administration. According to McClatchy, military officers close to General McChrystal said he is prepared to resign if he isn't given sufficient resources (read troops) to implement a change in direction in Afghanistan.