Deja Vue All Over Again in Afghanistan?

Déjà Vue All Over Again in Afghanistan?

The Obama administration lowers expectations

The Weekly Standard, National Security Section, August 7, 2009

By Kimberly Kagan, ISW President and Frederick Kagan, AEI



Throughout the debate about the "surge" in Iraq at the end of 2006 and the start of 2007, Bush administration spokesmen consistently underplayed the military requirements, and some people within the administration and the military tried to constrain the resources available to the commanders. These efforts were mistaken. They undermined support for the effort rather than building it, they distracted the commanders in the field from fighting the war to fighting for the troops they needed, and they continually put in question the administration's determination to see a very hard problem through to a successful conclusion. Is the Obama administration making similar mistakes regarding policy in Afghanistan? Judging by Wednesday's press conference with Pentagon Spokesman Geoff Morrell, it seems that the answer might well be yes.

Morrell began oddly by downplaying the significance of the review currently being conducted by General Stanley McChrystal. (Full disclosure: we were members of the civilian team that worked from late June to late July drafting products to support that review--but this article reflects our opinions only; not necessarily General McChrystal's or the conclusions of the review itself). Morrell said, "This is not akin to the much-anticipated General Petraeus assessments that we got in 2006 [sic], 2007." He added, "The assessment will not be, despite some erroneous reporting that I've seen, a work product that includes specific resource requests, if indeed there will be additional resource requests . . . that assessment will focus . . . on the situation on the ground and the way ahead, but it will not offer specific resource requests or recommendations."

It would be extremely strange for any commander to go through the exercise of designing a new strategy and campaign plan without also identifying the forces and other resources that would be needed to execute it. We do not know what resources General McChrystal will ask for, but he would be failing in his professional duty if he did not inform the Secretary of Defense of the requirements to execute his strategy--and the Secretary of Defense would be neglecting his duties if he did not ask.

Why would the Pentagon spokesman describe the commander's review process in such a dismissive and meaningless way? Why is the Pentagon spokesman talking down an assessment by that commander that is underway and incomplete but clearly marks a critical inflection point in the war? Why does the Pentagon wish to "lower expectations just a bit about what it is that's coming" out of General McChrystal's assessment? Unless, of course, the rumors are true that the administration is highly resistant to the idea of providing any additional forces that might be necessary to conduct the new strategy designed by their chosen commander to fight the war that the president said was the most important national security challenge we face.


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Additional Off-site Authors: 
Frederick Kagan