Military, Public pressure mounts as Obama contemplates war strategy for Afghanistan

Just over nine months into his first term, President Obama faces an unfortunate set of choices regarding another of his predecessors messes.  And as he contemplates his Afghanistan strategy, the president is taking pressure from all sides.

His military commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, publicly claimed that without the addition of 40,000 troops, the war effort would fail.  Even if that’s true, the additional forces would certainly not represent a guarantee of success either.

Dexter Filkins offered an intimate, and perhaps too uncritical, examination of McCrystal’s “long war” strategy in his New York Times Magazine piece from Oct. 14:

At the heart of McChrystal’s strategy are three principles: protect the Afghan people, build an Afghan state and make friends with whomever you can, including insurgents. Killing the Taliban is now among the least important things that are expected of NATO soldiers.

“You can kill Taliban forever,” McChrystal said, “because they are not a finite number.”

That strategy is underscored by an extraordinary sense of urgency — that eight years into this war the margin for error for the Americans has shrunk to zero. “If every soldier is authorized to make one mistake,” McChrystal said, “then we lose the war.”

Filkins, in his glowing assessment of McChrystal, concedes that the commander’s plan is comparable to the “surge” employed in Iraq which contributed to the Sunni Awakening:  The rejection of al Qaeda by the Iraqi Sunni minority, allowing room for political reconciliation.

Despite declarations of success associated with the Iraqi “surge,” political realities in Iraq remain far from reconciled, and violence, while reduced, continues to be a daily occurrence there.  Further, as Filkins, himself, stated, “Afghanistan is not Iraq…”

McChrystal’s nation building intentions for Afghanistan, while admirable, are unrealistic.  Nick Turse, Associate Editor for TomDispatch, offers a reminder that superior military power has its limits :

The U.S. military is unquestionably powerful and has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to mete out tremendous amounts of destruction and death. From Korea, Vietnam, and Cambodia to Iraq and Afghanistan, enemy fighters and unfortunate civilians, military base camps and people’s homes have been laid waste by U.S. forces in decade after decade of conflict. Yet sealing the deal has been another matter entirely. Victory has repeatedly slipped through the fingers of American presidents, no matter how much technology and ordnance has been unleashed on the poor, sometimes pre-industrial populations of America’s war zones.

Within his post, Turse rightly points out that over a century of American nation building activity, there is no clear cut example of military “victory.” Even in the Philippines where U.S. military intervention began in 1905, and despite renewed efforts begun under the Bush administration, it remains a dangerous place.

Despite the grim history, there remains a steady undercurrent of pressure on Obama to double down in Afghanistan.  General McChrsytal’s announcing his requirement for more troops publicly, rather than to his Commander in Chief, is just one example.

McChrsyal’s request was preceded by news reports informed by anonymous officials — a standard tactic for applying public pressure — proclaiming that the Pentagon is “worried about Obama’s commitment to Afghanistan.”

From the Aug. 31 McClatchy News article:

Obama now feels that McChrystal and his superior, Army Gen. David Petraeus, the head of the Central Command, are pressuring him to commit still more troops to Afghanistan, a senior military official said. The official said that retired Marine Gen. James Jones, Obama’s national security adviser, told McChrystal last month not to ask for more troops, but that McChrystal went ahead anyway and indicated in interviews that he may need more.

Adding to the behind the scenes coercion from the Pentagon is the overt criticism from political rivals of Obama, accusing the president of “dithering” on Afghanistan, as former Vice President Dick Cheney recently stated.  Both sources of pressure, however, pay no attention to the historical realities raised in Turse’s post.

For what it’s worth, Cheney’s ironic assessment is easy for the White House to brush aside, but the pressure will remain until Obama announces his strategy which isn’t expected until after the Nov. 7 do-over of the fraudulent Afghan election.  That another election needs to happen should beg the question of Obama and Americans in general, why are we there?

My friend and editor at News Junkie Post, Gilbert Mercier,  posed that very question in his Oct. 30 blog post.  Mercier suggests that Obama should consider the assessment of  recently resigned State Department official, Matthew Hoh:

…a former Marine Captain who became the first foreign service official to resign in protest of the war in Afghanistan. His name is Matthew Hoh, and he doesn’t think anyone has an answer to justify the US and NATO presence in Afghanistan. Further, Hoh says that staying in the country is not in America’s interest.

From Hoh’s Sept. 10 resignation letter:

I have observed that the bulk of the insurgency fights not for the white banner of the Taliban, but rather against the presence of foreign soldiers and taxes imposed by an unrepresentative government in Kabul.

The United States military presence in Afghanistan greatly contributes to the legitimacy and strategic message of the Pashtun insurgency.  In a like manner our backing of the Afghan government in its current form continues to distance the government from the people.  The Afghan government’s failings , particularly when weighed against the sacrifice of American lives and dollars, appear legion and metastatic…

Hoh’s stinging critique shouldn’t just be considered by the president, but should be read and digested by all Americans.  It is a window into the disposition of the Afghan war which is profoundly misunderstood by most Americans, whose notions of the conflict are generally informed by the conveniently concise and simplistic representations on television news.

With that, I welcome your comments.  Tell me what you think Obama should do?  Consider what is conventionally considered to be his options and their potential consequences:

1. Should the president decide to honor Gen. McChrystal’s request for a substantial increase in troops, he’ll find himself in a political firestorm from his progressive base without any guarantee of military success.

2. A withdrawal of U.S. military forces, while prudent in my opinion,  bolsters his political opposition at home, and would require reversal his campaign commitment  to “win” in Afghanistan.

3. More likely, however, is that the administration will pursue a middle path, as was reported Oct. 27 by the New York Times:

President Obama’s advisers are focusing on a strategy for Afghanistan aimed at protecting about 10 top population centers, administration officials said Tuesday, describing an approach that would stop short of an all-out assault on the Taliban while still seeking to nurture long-term stability…

Whatever the president decides, it is clear that not everyone will be pleased.  There is no pragmatic solution to Obama’s Afghanistan problem.  Regardless of what he decides, It will be absolutely imperative that he answers the questions; why are we there, and what, specifically, constitutes victory in Afghanistan?

Elsewhere on Care2:

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Image from user:  U.S. Army, by way of


Abo Ahmed r.
Abo r8 years ago

I pray to open my eyes one day on a No War any more in the earth ... No more killing and criminals ... No violance of any kind

Lionel Mann
Lionel Mann8 years ago

Ch Hardy,
Sorry too that you feel that way. They tried by conscription to turn me into a military man; I resisted. If everbody did that the need for military would cease. Anyone who accepts military training assents to murder, but "those who live by the sword shall die by the sword". Think hard!
The best way to stop the "shit hitting the fan" would be by curbing cretinous war-mongering politicians; lock them up and throw away the key. The institution of international courts should give pause to anyone contemplating aggression. Unfortunately your government claims exemption and pursues its bellicose activities, dragging others along.
War is savagery, a denial of civilisation, a reversion to barbarism, back to the jungle. I am proud of my stand.

Ch Hardy
Past Member 8 years ago

Lionel I guess its easy for you to say that about our Military but I take offense to it. My hubby served the US for 8 years and he is not what you said "brutal brainless butchers, mindless moronic murderers"

I feel sorry for those who feel that way b/c when the snit hits the fan who else will be there to help - yeap you guessed it those "brutal brainless butchers, mindless moronic murderers"...where would you be without them?

Lionel Mann
Lionel Mann8 years ago

Of course military advisers will recommend a "surge", a euphemism for an increase of slaughter. All military training aims at producing brutal brainless butchers, mindless moronic murderers and the higher they rise in rank the more hidebound they become. Have not enough innocent Afghan (as well as Iraqi and Pakinstani)civilian men, women and children already been massacred to satisfy the bloodlust of even the most diehard warmonger? To bring home immediately your troops would not be defeat but rather a victory for commonsense and common decency.

Ann R.
me m8 years ago

where there is drugs there is money...

Sir Walk F.
Sir Walk F8 years ago

Stop making excuses for empire. Bring the troops Home. NOW.

War is a profit-racket for weapons manufacturers, and there has never been a "Good War", despite the mythology about ww2 that some still believe.

Bring the troops home. we need them here.

Jim Steve
Jim Steve8 years ago

Oh yeah, A couple other things, The top level of troops suggested was not 40,000 it was 80,000 plus...........

To date: The "reduction" of US forces in conflict is a myth:

Total USA troop deployment in 2007 (at peak): 158,000 in Iraq, 35,000 in Afghanistan. Total: 193,000

Total troop deployments in Oct 13th, 2009..124,000 in Iraq, 68,000 in Afghanistan (already there). Total: 192,000

If Obama sends the troops requested by McKrystal (likely) it would look like this:

192,000 40,000 = 232,000 about a 20% INCREASE.

It's been 8 years now.

Jim Steve
Jim Steve8 years ago

America has troops all over the world. Preemptive war? People who believe in that are delusional. Why has America increased it's presence in Columbia to 10 bases? What's up with Africom? This is empire folks. It will end badly. This is a case that the more you do, the more damage is done. Bring the troops home. NOW. No more excuses.

Margaret S.
Margaret S8 years ago

Your narrow-minded view of past wars totally discounts the good we, as a country have done. Victory HAS NOT 'repeatedly slipped through the fingers of our Presidents. What about WWII? Vietnam is another story. We were winning there, until John Kerry, in 1971, convinced a Democrat Congress to cut off funding for that war.

March 13, 2008

"Summer Soldiers by Any Other Name"
THAT was the reason for several million deaths. Even a Communist General stated that we had been winning there.

"why are we there?" If you don't know, do some research. Millions of Americans know. Hoh is incorrect. Retreating from Afghanistan is what is not in our best interests. This inability to make decisions is probably why the French are calling him 'Presdent Pantywaist'.

Obama has only one choice (in the best interests of America - your option number one.

Margaret S.
Margaret S8 years ago

Obama campaigned on knowing the 'right way' to wage war in Afghanistan. However, he campaigned one way and is governing quite another way. Still, he had a lot to say about the wrong things Bush was doing. (He also said the surge in Irag would not work).

Obama needs to make a decision. It seems he is torn not by what would be the right thing to do, but the political consequences of whatever he does do. No way to run a war. More men have been killed in Afghanistan while Obama dithers.
Al Qaeda, sensing weakness in Obama is testing his resolve. The longer Obama waits, the more problems there will be in Iraq.

Pakistan is now moving heavily against Al Qaeda in that country. If we retreat from Afghanistan, they will move in and have a new base there. At the moment, they don't have a whole country to run. We must not allow them to claim Afghanistan.
McChrsytal, in many opinions had no choice but to speak out. Obama had only spoken to him one time in 57 days. Then had a photo op on Air Force one for 25 minutes. His job is to provide the information he feels the president needs. It is not the purview of the National Security advisor to decide what the General tells Obama.