President Obama has stated that his decision to relieve Gen. Stanley McChrystal and replace him with Gen. David Petraeus is a change of personnel, but not of policy. But many analysts believe that a change of policy is also in order.
Daniel Serwer, Vice President of the Centers for Peacebuilding Innovation at the U.S. Institute of Peace, today wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post which advised President Obama to clearly state his desired end state for Afghanistan and adopt a more realistic timeframe for attaining his goal. Otherwise, Serwer warns, the administration’s strategy for negotiating a political settlement in Afghanistan could end up turning Afghanistan into another Lebanon, an unstable state that has fallen increasingly under the sway of Hezbollah, a radical Islamist organization similar to the Taliban that represses human rights, unleashes terrorism and remains virulently hostile to U.S. interests.
One of the major takeaways from the Rolling Stone article that led to General McChrystal’s dismissal was the tremendous frustration of many high-ranking military officers in Afghanistan (not just McChrystal) with the Obama Administration’s artificial timeline for beginning a troop withdrawal by July 2011. As Heritage Foundation national security expert James Carafano wrote yesterday, “timelines need to be set based on the situation on the ground, not the political calendar in Washington. You don’t get your allies to stand shoulder to shoulder with you by threatening to abandon them.”
President Obama’s decision to set such an unrealistic time limit on the American troop surge, apparently motivated by domestic political considerations, has imposed an impossible burden on U.S. commanders in Afghanistan, who need much more time to execute the Petraeus/McChrystal counterinsurgency strategy. Instead of acting as a decisive commander-in-chief firmly committed to success in Afghanistan, President Obama unfortunately has come across as an uncertain political leader eager to paper over differences within his own divided administration to implement an exit strategy, despite the likely disastrous consequences of such a plan.
Charles Krauthammer wrote a column today that contrasted Obama’s half-hearted commitment in Afghanistan with President Bush’s determined surge in Iraq and noted that an Afghan facing a life-or-death decision on which side to support is unlikely to bet his life by becoming an ally of a U.S. government that is edging toward withdrawal. Krauthammer observed that one reason the surge in Iraq succeeded was that: “What President Bush’s critics considered mulishness, the Iraqis saw as steadfastness.”
Peter Bergen, CNN’s National Security Analyst, wrote a revealing analysis of Gen. Petraeus’s successful efforts in Iraq and noted that although the challenge in Afghanistan differs in important ways, the scale of violence in Iraq was much greater. Bergen pointed out that although 2,400 Afghan civilians died last year (the majority at the hands of the Taliban), when Petraeus assumed command in Iraq, 3,200 Iraqi civilians were dying every month, making Iraq about fifteen times more violent than Afghanistan is today. Moreover, a recent poll indicated that about 62 percent of Afghans support international forces in their country, compared to only about one third of Iraqis in 2005.
Bing West, a leading military analyst, yesterday wrote a thoughtful article concerning three key tasks that Gen. Petraeus must accomplish in the immediate future, but noted that he is unlikely to succeed unless he has solid backing from the President: “Petraeus will be a great asset to the President. But in the end, it is Obama’s war, and so far, no one knows how committed he is.”
President Obama needs to make it clear that he has a victory plan, not just an exit plan. He wisely has chosen General Petraeus to replace Gen. McChrystal. Now the President should give Gen. Petraeus the resources and time necessary to accomplish his vital mission.
For more publications and links, see: Afghanistan