Breaking Down Obama's Afghanistan Strategy

Flash analysis of Obama's Afghan surge

By DANIEL MACHT
|  Monday, Dec 7, 2009  |  Updated 7:38 AM EDT
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Obama's Littlest Constituents

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U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal has one idea of how to fight the war in Afghanistan. The pundit world can recommend a few more.

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After President Obama pledged 30,000 troops for Afghanistan, pundits have come up with a list of fill-in-the-blanks to finish the phrase: Afghanistan is ____________. 

  • A special needs baby, says Thomas Friedman. The New York Times columnist told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria he feared doing “nation building 101 in the most fragmented place in the world,” especially with the U.S. in recession. “I feel like we're like an unemployed couple who just went out and decided to adopt a special needs baby,” he said. 
  • A harder sell than Vietnam was for LBJ, writes author Earl Ofari Hutchinson for HuffPo. The war in Vietnam enjoyed high public support and little meddling from Congress during Johnson’s administration, even as he escalated fighting, Hutchinson notes: “He used that cushion to get whatever he wanted out of Congress, the Pentagon, and taxpayers in men and money to sustain his war. Obama, like Johnson, will have to go back to Congress and the public to repeatedly resell his war. But if fighting goes bad, the casualties and costs mount, the resell will be far tougher for him than it was for Johnson on Vietnam.” 
  • Bush Doctrine 2.0, says ex-Cheney adviser Mary Matalin. The GOP strategist and commentator said Sunday that Obama’s “solid decision” to flood Afghanistan with 30,000 troops reminded her of tactics from the Bush surge in Iraq: “The problem for Democrats is that they’ve bashed Bush strategy and tactics for so long and now they have to embrace them because they’re the only ones that do work,” Matalin said on CNN’s State of the Union.
  • Not subject to Obama’s logic, writes Frank Rich for The New York Times: “Obama’s speech struck me as the sincere product of serious deliberations, an earnest attempt to apply his formidable intelligence to one of the most daunting Rubik’s Cubes of foreign policy America has ever known,” Rich argues. “But some circles of hell can’t be squared. What he’s ended up with is a too-clever-by-half pushmi-pullyu holding action that lacks both a credible exit strategy and the commitment of its two most essential partners, a legitimate Afghan government and the American people.” 
  • A COIN toss. Johns Hopkins professor Eliot A. Cohen questions in The Washington Post whether the U.S. really has a successful counterinsurgency strategy in place Afghanistan: “Obama has made his choice: counterinsurgency warfare, or COIN, as insiders like to call it,” he writes. The plan requires vast knowledge about the enemy, which is hard to pull off “in a world of rotating military and diplomatic assignments [and] three-month think tank projects,” he writes.

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