I used to respect David Ignatius and enjoy his columns. I enjoyed his narration between Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski in "America and the
December 3, 2009


I used to respect David Ignatius and enjoy his columns. I enjoyed his narration between Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski in "America and the World." Then he took a few helicopter rides with Gen. Petraeus and I think they replaced him with a pod person. That's the only rationale I can think of with his recent comments about President Obama's speech about an Afghanistan strategy.

Military commanders appear comfortable with Obama's decision, although they wish it hadn't taken so long.

You mean that after six years of asking for reinforcements, to include the immediate predecessor to Gen. McChrystal, that the military officers are upset about six-month strategy review? Hmmmmm.

The most important question about Obama's strategy isn't political but pragmatic: Will it succeed? He has defined success downward, by focusing on the ability to transfer control to the Afghans. He shows little interest in the big ideas of counterinsurgency and insists he will avoid "a nation-building commitment in Afghanistan." That will make it easier to declare a "good enough" outcome in July 2011, if not victory.

What exactly did Ignatius think was the point of military operations in Afghanistan if not to create the conditions where the Afghans could take charge of their own security? Did he think that we were just supposed to coddle the Afghani security forces forever, or until we kill every living Taliban? President Obama doesn't show interest in COIN because IT'S AN OPERATIONAL TACTIC - that's what the generals are paid to do. He just tells them what the end result is supposed to be, and whatever he decides is "good enough" is what we call victory conditions. It's not a hard concept.

Obama thinks that setting deadlines will force the Afghans to get their act together at last. That strikes me as the most dubious premise of his strategy. He is telling his adversary that he will start leaving on a certain date, and telling his ally to be ready to take over then, or else. That's the weak link in an otherwise admirable decision -- the idea that we strengthen our hand by announcing in advance that we plan to fold it.

Yeah, it's not as if setting a deadline worked in Iraq, right? Oh wait, it did. If we set the conditions for leaving, it does, at the least, allow the US government to plan resources and understand that this isn't an endless death spiral. It does force Karzai and company to understand that they won't have the US military as the palace guard forever. Here's a newsflash for David - the goal is al Qaeda. The Taliban aren't taking flying lessons or planning to smuggle themselves into the United States. We need to stop thinking that every nation needs the US military to hold their hand, and maybe, just maybe, people who live in a country can actually make a way toward their own goals and ambitions (even if they aren't the same as our own).

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