The Goldilocks War

Look, I Know This Is Uncomfortable For You, But The Reason I Have A Theme Song And This Air Plane Is I Am Your Commander-In-Chief

Despite all the focus on McChrystal’s faux pax/bum rush on the Afghan strategic review process, the positions of other key players in Obama’s circle warrants a little more attention. Recent efforts like Rizza’s New Yorker profile on Summers and the decision-making process inside the Administration only underscores the importance of Obama’s reliance on the judgment of people with ‘experience’ and need for ‘options’.

It’s not like like McChrystal and Petreaus have the status of Curtis LeMay trying to brow beat a PT boat commander. Public support for the military does not necessarily mean solid confidence in its competence. (Even factoring in guilt factors).

So where does Gates stand? And more precisely, given this intellectual preference for analytic scope and congruity (all with an ear for political winds), where does Afghanistan fit within Gates/OSD’s vision for the future of warfare in the upcoming QDR? We, too, hear some variant hybrid ‘hybrid definition’ will be a heavy influence in the document. This weekend’s firefight highlights the complexities placing Afghanistan along the spectrum.

Much as Lizza reports that Obama eventually invoked the Goldilocks Paradigm we suspect a similar outcome for Afghanistan. Not that we offer it as direct analog. Mercifully, given Holbrooks’ secondary role, there is no Summers-esque persona at the apex here. Biden’s position is well known. We suspect Gate’s personal advice will carry weight and may be decisive. The evolution of the QDR suggests he is comfortable conceptually with additional troops (today Gates says can’t afford to lose/Afghanistn is the epicenter of jihad). Specifically, in Afghanistan, he already endorsed McChyrstal’s pull back strategy (whether McChrystal himself medium term is dependent on whether he learned his lesson). The rest of the Administration will float more leaks off the record re aggressive cross border incursions in Pakistan, yada yada, etc. This also is in keeping with recasting GWOT to a lower level focus on specific anti-terrorism and law enforcement.

Obama will be attracted to the fudge. One reason is that just as Johnson went all Danang ’65 as a flank shield/vote roll to immunize his domestic agenda from weak-on-communism, Obama’s handling of domestic events in 2009 leaves him too weak to be audacious on Afghanistan. Congressional democrats are doubtlessly making this clear to Rahm as well. They know they are too beleauguered as it is without a crushing ‘cut and run’ attack in 2010. And Obama must know that full-on escalation is a fool’s errand.

Personally, we endorsed the counter-terrorism approach at a taped conference back in 2002. We’ve never seen it as a ‘war of necessity’ once UBL escaped and a de facto sanctuary acknowledged by all parties created. Those parameters preclude ‘victory’ even without factoring Afghanistan’s unique qualities. Politically, the time is long past here and on the ground for a successful counter-insurgency approach. If it ever could succeed (which we always rejected). A glass half full decision allows everyone to walk away from ‘failure’ with enough ammo for memoirs and successful public speaking careers for finger pointing.

Moreover, we remain unconvinced that tottering Pakistan could tolerate a successful ‘defeat’ of the their Taliban proxy (as opposed to the Arab Al-Queda). Or is in a position to withstand further erosion of Islamabad’s effective zone of control inside the country itself to pro-Taliban forces. The Islamabad lense remains focused on India and strategic depth — this summer’s army offensive notwithstanding. Is anyone surprised that Mush diverted most of our billions in ‘anti-terrorism’ aid to the Kashmir frontier and domestic regime subsidies?

What’s most intriguing is how passive Obama appears to be as a self-proclaimed change agent. On almost every issue since January 2009 his administration announces something broad and even inspiring. Usually packaging generalities, the Administration allows details to bog down (in Congress, in the memeosphere ™, inside itself, etc.), and remains silent as the Movement mobilizes. When that reaches a certain level, the Administration wakes up and tries to counterpunch, usually ineffectively. Issue after issue. Trust us, if even the clueless writers at SNL can realize this, it’s a big problem. We don’t see this pattern as a conscious rope-a-dope but more a contour of an administration accommodating POTUS. One wonders if Rahm, like Richard Perle, still tells all lurking crisises ‘Bring ‘em on.’