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Scrutinizing Obama's Afghan Plan

By Dan Froomkin
11:58 AM ET, 04/ 2/2009

President Obama's hawkish and open-ended plan for Afghanistan came under a little scrutiny yesterday at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

But even as Obama commits to sending 21,000 additional troops to the region -- with another 10,000 possibly to follow -- his administration has left some key questions unanswered.

Here's what Sen. Susan Collins (R-Me.) asked Michèle Flournoy, the under secretary of defense for policy, yesterday: "How will you know whether or not this new strategy is working? It seems to me that you need a set of clear benchmarks, clear metrics, going in and that we should not be committing additional troops until we have a means of measuring whether or not the strategy is successful."

Fluornoy said the Pentagon was working on it. She said the decision to deploy additional forces was driven by "a sense of urgency by our commanders on the ground that with the fighting season coming, the need to reverse momentum, the need to get in there and begin protecting the population, secure things for the election, and not lose ground, ... that we needed to go forward even as we were refining our metrics and so forth.

"But I can promise you we will, in a very short amount of time, be able to come back and talk to you in detail about metrics."

The decision to send American troops to war -- even if it's to continue a previous administration's war -- is about the most important a president can make. So Obama's new Afghanistan plan should be held to the utmost scrutiny.

Has it? I think not. I intend to revisit this issue in the coming days, with a focus on the emerging -- and largely unanswered -- critiques. In the meantime, I'd like to hear what you think. Do you think Obama has made his case? Leave your thoughts in comments below.

Yochi J. Dreazan writes in the Wall Street Journal with more news from the hearing: "President Barack Obama is weighing whether to deploy 10,000 more troops to Afghanistan but lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are questioning an increased commitment and seeking specific measures of progress against the deteriorating conditions in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"When President Obama took office, the U.S. had about 38,000 troops in Afghanistan. The White House has announced plans to send 21,000 reinforcements in coming months, increasing the tally to almost 60,000.

"Mr. Obama will decide this fall whether to order 10,000 more troops to Afghanistan next year, senior Pentagon officials told a Senate panel Wednesday, bringing the total to almost 70,000."

Julian E. Barnes writes for the Los Angeles Times that Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the committee's chairman, "expressed concerns Wednesday about the Obama administration's plan to triple nonmilitary aid to Pakistan, saying he wasn't sure that would push Islamabad to take more aggressive action against extremists."

The next stop for Obama -- and a lot of his fellow leaders -- is the NATO summit where, as Robert Burns writes for the Associated Press: "A stalemated Afghan war and the appearance of a new, untested American president will dominate a crowded agenda....

"The summit will be Obama's first chance to appeal directly to alliance heads of government for more help in the deadlocked U.S. campaign to defeat the Taliban. The Afghan campaign is the only ground war that NATO has fought since it was founded in April 1949."

But the "depth of disagreement" over Afghanistan and other issues among the allies "is unlikely to be exposed at the NATO summit, where the public focus will be on celebrating 60 years of unity," Burns writes.

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