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Another John Kerry 'flip-flop'?

Sen. John Kerry seems to have confused the Washington press corps. Fresh from Afghanistan, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman delivered a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations on Monday that caused The Post to report that he “opposes sending more troops to Afghanistan” and the Los Angeles Times to conclude that “he would support a decision by President Obama to send some additional troops.”

Was Kerry for the troop increase before he was against it -- all in the same speech? Not exactly. Instead the Massachusetts Democrat's complicated position sounded like an attempt to fudge the difference between supporters and opponents of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's request for 40,000 reinforcements. In that respect, Kerry -- who served as a de facto White House representative in talks last week with Afghan President Hamid Karzai -- may have been offering a hint of where Obama, who also seems to be searching for a middle ground, may end up.

As Stephen Biddle, an expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, pointed out in today's Post story, Kerry agrees with most of McChrystal's plan for Afghanistan. They both say that better Afghan governance is essential, that the Taliban cannot be allowed to regain control over large parts of the country, that a reorganization and escalation of civilian development efforts is essential, and that the Afghan army must be prepared as quickly as possible to take over the fight.

Their only real difference is on the politically explosive troop increase. Kerry said McChrystal's central option, for 40,000 more troops, “reaches too far, too fast.” His argument is that there are not yet enough Afghan troops or government structures to accompany American soldiers into areas they clear, which means that the key second and third phases of counterinsurgency -- “hold” and “build” -- could not be carried out.

But Kerry also suggested that as more troops are trained and capable local government officials recruited, and “we can be confident that military efforts can be sustained and built upon, then I would support the president” sending additional troops. He went on to say those troops could be sent in smaller batches over a longer period than proposed by McChrystal; each new brigade, he argued, would anyway take three months to deploy.

I suspect that some of Obama's advisers are thinking along the same lines as Kerry. Afghanistan would get more troops, but only slowly, and only in tandem with improvements with its government and army. This has a sensible, pay-as-you-go ring to it; it also might diffuse the political problem of asking Congress to fund 40,000 more troops -- at about $40 billion -- all at once.

The problem with Kerry's thinking is that it sidesteps one of the central points made by McChrystal: The Taliban is currently winning the war, and unless its momentum is reversed in the next year, it may prove impossible to implement the larger strategy. As Kerry himself acknowledged, many Afghans are choosing sides in the war based on which side they believe has the upper hand, and right now they are betting on the Taliban. Sending troops in dribs and drabs won't change that reality -- and it may condemn the soldiers already there to fighting and dying without the chance of winning.

On Sunday's Opinion page I quoted Kerry, famously a Vietnam veteran, as saying that, “One of the lessons of Vietnam is if you are going to send American forces into harm's way, you don't do it in a limited way. You don't do it tying hands behind your back ahead of time. You don't ask people to give their lives for something less than the prospect of success.” He said that in 1999, during a debate about the U.S. intervention in Kosovo. But it's a lesson that applies equally to the way the Afghan war has been conducted so far -- and how it might continue, if Kerry has his way.

By Jackson Diehl  | October 27, 2009; 12:21 PM ET
Categories:  Diehl  | Tags:  Jackson Diehl  
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Comments

Clearly the President and Kerry want Karzai out. Thats why they are waiting on the troop decisions. That and they wanted to use it as a way to force Karzai to have a run off. The run off makes sense, but what are they going to do if Karzai wins?

Posted by: DCDave11 | October 27, 2009 12:57 PM | Report abuse

Interesting article. I like the fact that Diehl more or less admitted that we can reverse the momentum in Afghanistan any time we want - we just have to decide to do it.

One of the things I liked about GWB was that he wasn't indecisive at moments like these - he made the best decision he could with the facts at hand a drove in. I wouls like to see Mr. Obama do the same thing, but he has certain limitations that GWB didn't have - namely that the anti-war left is one of his core constituencies.

One hopes that he doesn't allow that to affect his decision-making unduly.

Posted by: ZZim | October 27, 2009 1:09 PM | Report abuse

"famously a Vietnam veteran." Yeh. Just a bit sarcastic there, Jackson.
You have no idea of what you speak. Nobody knows anything about the "Taliban." All we know is that local country folk in that distant country don't want foreigners invading them.
GWB. Give me a break. WMD, anyone?

Posted by: pb4072 | October 27, 2009 1:22 PM | Report abuse

Spinemess POS like Odumbo and Kerry are killing American's as they play politics. Somehow I don't see Obama making it to 2010. Someone is going to assainate him. Sad but true.

Spineless POS like Odumbo and Kerry are killing American's as they play politics. Somehow I don't see Obama making it to 2010. Someone is going to shoot him. Sad but true.

Posted by: askgees | October 27, 2009 1:34 PM | Report abuse

Kerry makes the specific point that we need to lay the groundwork for making effective use of our troops before we deploy them. An army that outruns its logistics is an army running out of time.

Diehl counters with 'momentum'. This is a misleading use of a metaphor from physics for sociology. More precisely, what is at stake is future expectations. And as Hoh reports in his now infamous resignation, expectations can shift from valley to valley. Most fighters have a local orientation.

What leads to failure is setting up unsustainable fire bases out in the countryside. When we pull back after the inevitable mass attack, we write the message for the Taliban.

Try another narrative. We're not coming out there just yet, but when we do arrive it will be with sufficient forces, material, and will to prevail and to stay. Start with the cities. Even the declining USSR was able to manage urban security. Establish a working relationship with locals in rural places where the leaders wish to oppose the Pushtun Taliban. Provide logistic support and training to local fighters. When Afghans can take over security in the cities, we can push the perimeter outward. This establishes a different set of expectations: you may decide to cooperate with the Taliban over the short term, but their days are numbered.

Posted by: j2hess | October 27, 2009 1:59 PM | Report abuse


Who can be responsible for what the Post reports..concludes?

The Post, Israel centric, will slide around whatever are the facts and and attempt to make it match the neocon plan.

Like the time they reported that VP Biden's statement regarding bombinh Iran
(not) meant that the US was giving Israel the right to do so. It stinks.

If there is really a difference in what the various reporters concluded, don't believe the Post.

You used to be able to. When they had some decent, relatively honest writers not subject to the zionist line.

Posted by: whistling | October 27, 2009 2:18 PM | Report abuse

Say what you will, a President Kerry would have been even worse than a President Bush, second term.

Posted by: ravitchn | October 27, 2009 2:29 PM | Report abuse

askgees -- Why don't you crawl back under your rock, but leave your address first, so that the secret service can find you.

Posted by: Mark35 | October 27, 2009 2:34 PM | Report abuse

What is Obozzo thinking-

1) Kerry, a coward, as military adviser
2) Timothy Geithner, a tax cheat for Secretary of the Treasury
3) Kevin Jennings, Safe school Czar was required by law to report child abuse, including sex crimes and didn't.
4) too many tax cheating administration advisers to mention.

Haaaaavaaaaad or not- this guy is an imbecile!!!!

Posted by: Bcamp55 | October 27, 2009 2:38 PM | Report abuse

Excellent poost, Bcamp55. The anointed on is too busy jetting the country on AF1 for coast to coast fund raising and cocktail parties to pay any attention to the economy or the war in Afghanistan. Tax cheat Rangel and Chris "Countrywide" Dodd should be on this list.

Posted by: nmg3rln | October 27, 2009 3:09 PM | Report abuse

Kerry is clueless. "The United States is asking its troops to die in Afghanistan for what is essentially a far-off civil war. . . Hundreds, maybe thousands, of groups across Afghanistan had few ideological ties to the Taliban but took its money to fight the foreign intruders and maintain their own local power bases.. . it was more nationalistic. But it's localism. I would call it valley-ism... the war has violently and savagely pitted the urban, secular, educated and modern of Afghanistan against the rural, religious, illiterate and traditional. It is this latter group that composes and supports the Pashtun insurgency... you have to draw the line somewhere, and say this is their problem to solve," according to Matthew Hoh.

For two years we heard presidential candidates talk about an exit strategy to get out of Iraq. Why don't we have an exit strategy to get out of Afghanistan?

Posted by: alance | October 27, 2009 3:28 PM | Report abuse

This "pay as you go" plan is exactly how larger, better army is defeated by a smaller less capable foe.

Any student of military history will patiently exlain that is exactly how generals like Napoleon defeated much larger forces.

Kerry is once again displaying all the traits so eloquently described by his Swift Boat comrades. He has no intestinal fortitude and he has always been a polictical operative rather than a man of courage and moral conviction.

If we fight in Afghanistan it should be with maximum effort in the shortest possible time. Otherwise the Taliban and Al Qaeda will simply adapt and increase their forces while we slowly build ours.

Any nation that elects inexperienced and morally vauge leadership does so at its peril.

A lesson we appear slated to learn once again.

Posted by: krankyman | October 27, 2009 3:29 PM | Report abuse

Kerry is a useless "POS" TRAITOR.

He has nothing but disrespect for our nation and its military!!

He should be shot at court marshall!!


Posted by: jjcrocket2 | October 27, 2009 3:41 PM | Report abuse

Think that this is just the beginning of a BRAIN DRAIN in the uniform ranks -- thanks to the commander-in-chief. He has time to play golf; to campaign; and have family photo shoots -- but when it comes to tough decisions, he cannot pull the trigger!

Candidly, sending John Kerry (a Vietnam War Veteran of course) out as the spokesperson for Afghan policy is just not all that reassuring!! Makes one wonder where Sec Gates and Sec Clinton are these days!!

Don't you know that the leaders in NATO are asking the question, "WHAT IS OBAMA THINKING?"

Posted by: wheeljc | October 27, 2009 4:31 PM | Report abuse

This President has only two options:
(1) Send the troupes needed to win the war in Afghanistan!
(2)or admit defeat & get our troupes out of that H@LL hole, and back home before they are picked off one by one or 14 like yesterday, or the 8 that was picked off today.

He stated off trying to make nice to the people of Iran, Iraq, & Afghanistan then he won the Nobel Peace prize for making nice & he does not want to rock the boat until after he collects his prize.

I don't think that he has the mentality or courage to make the correct decisions for our country.

This Democrat thinks we got what we voted for, ALL PROMISES, NO WORKABLE solutions for times like these. His borrowing & spending has got to stop, before he sinks all of America.

Posted by: wildfire1946 | October 27, 2009 5:04 PM | Report abuse

Flip or flop some damn body better get this one right. So, far ain't nobody got a clue. Fareed, Wares and CNN have a better view than our Generals, Congress, Senate or White House. Bush left one hell of a mess to put back in order. I still say we don't even know who the damn enemy is right now. We are in one hell of a mess. We are damn sure being played big time. So, when the smoke clears-who the hell knows?

Posted by: Scar1 | October 27, 2009 5:17 PM | Report abuse

Gawd, the Repuglicant brain trust has come out from the rocks again. Duh, Kerry is a traitor, duh! Duh, Kerry is a coward, duh.
Please. We know who was AWOL from the NATIONAL GUARD, no less, and never even got CLOSE to serving in a Combat Zone. The same AWOL coward wasted the lives of troops in a war based on lies. There is your coward and traitor - George W. Bush. Go back under your rocks, 20 percenters.

Posted by: berliner298 | October 27, 2009 5:26 PM | Report abuse

Jackson Diehl, please stay out of Middle East and South Asian policy making.

You are competent in neither area and, as I have said before, as a career non-soldier you ought to stay away from commenting on military decisions across the board.

There must be some Washington DC regional issues you might address with more authority and background for our "local newspaper."

Posted by: harper-d | October 27, 2009 5:26 PM | Report abuse

krankyman and his allies can't distinguish between a territorial war and a guerilla war. The strategy and tactics of one do not translate well to the other. Read Phillip Bobbitt or the Small Wars Journal.

alance repeats Hoh's critique. Hoh missed the fact that the rural faction under the Taliban took down the urban faction a few years back, which might raise reasonable objections as much as if you or I were compelled to live under Sharia. He also missed the connection of one party in this civil war to the ethnic insurgencies destabilizing Pakistan. Apparently there are also other 'talibans' in the surrounding 'stans waiting to see how the Taliban fares in Afghanistan before launching their own insurgencies. You want to be able to draw back from the local picture of Hoh's objections and see the larger strategic picture.

Posted by: j2hess | October 27, 2009 5:55 PM | Report abuse

2 words for John "Swiftboat" Kerry: Term Limits!

Posted by: cschotta1 | October 27, 2009 7:23 PM | Report abuse

.
um, wouldn't it be more helpful to refer to Mr. Biddle as a Fellow at CFR, or a Researcher at CFR, rather than as an "expert" at CFR ?
Many of your readers have read or heard his take on Afghanistan and know he is no expert. It's just distracting, that's all.
.

Posted by: BrianX9 | October 27, 2009 11:51 PM | Report abuse

Unless there is a change in the way the US is handling the Afghan war (eight years a still no definite goals) we are spinning our wheels and needlessly exposing our troops to danger and possible death. Right now there is no plan and also no clear understanding with any of the waring factions about what is best for Afghanistan. We are not social engineers and our track record at our attempts to do so is horrible.

Posted by: npsilver | October 28, 2009 2:01 AM | Report abuse

I have NEVER heard a Bush basher explain how Kerry would have been a better president. Now he seems bound and determined to make the reflexive Bush bashers look even more stupid.

Posted by: standard_guy | October 28, 2009 4:05 AM | Report abuse

Fantastic article. This one seems simple to me. Never do something half-a**ed - Especially if it is this important. If President Obama deems the war in Afghanistan essential to American interests in the Middle East and for the sake of the security of our country - Than fight to win. Don't fight with one hand tied behind your back to secure public opinion. Think in terms of best interests of the country and our troops.

Posted by: forward22 | October 28, 2009 5:56 AM | Report abuse

He's not Flip Flopping. He truly does believe BOTH SIDES. Remember, he "voted FOR it, before he voted AGAINST it". He's the NEW ENVIRONMENT MAN. But he also likes his SUVs, his JET RIDES, and his MANSIONS that require HEAT in the Winter, and AIR CONDITIONING in the Summer.
So the idea that he would be FOR fighting the 'REAL WAR' in Afghanistan, one day, and AGAINST it, the next, should come as no surprise. HE's an IDIOT. He's a DEMOCRAT. And I'm being REDUNDANT.

Posted by: GoomyGommy | October 28, 2009 8:23 AM | Report abuse

I think it's time to come to grips with Obama's reality. Six months after announcing his new plan and objectives, he is losing this war. I believe that he is trying to find a way to lose with dignity. This is self-delusion, thus it is no surprise that Kerry will carry the bucket for Obama. It would be a grave dishonor to our Armed Forces for him to keep them on the battlefield when he knows that he will surrender to the Taliban. He also knows that our fighting men and women will never forgive him for betraying their blood, sweat, commitment, and courage. Therefore, there must be one who will stand up and say "Mr. President, either win this war or step aside."

Posted by: prospector | October 28, 2009 11:53 AM | Report abuse

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