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Scrutinizing Obama's Afghan Plan

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.

By Dan Froomkin  |  April 2, 2009; 11:58 AM ET
Categories:  Afghanistan  
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Why does the U.S. government keep making the same mistakes, over and over again? Do they really think they will "win" in Afghanistan?

And before any of you Bush-bots squeaks "Iraq!" I would caution you to hold your applause. That one isn't won yet whatever you think.

Posted by: EnjoyEverySandwich | April 2, 2009 12:18 PM | Report abuse

Problem is that Obama doesn’t have the balls to make the politically unpopular decisions to defeat and subdue the Afghani insurgency the way that Bush did with Iraq. And despite the campaign talk, NATO isn’t going to kick in any additional help.

Our enemies in Afghanistan are going to figure out real quick that if they make us bleed Obama will pack it up and go home.

Posted by: SharpshootingPugilist | April 2, 2009 12:29 PM | Report abuse

"So Obama's new Afghanistan plan should be held to the utmost scrutiny. Has it? I think not."

There goes Dan and his obsessive Obama-worship again!

*waves to the trolls*

Posted by: BigTunaTim | April 2, 2009 1:29 PM | Report abuse

Well no matter how much Froomkin hearts his “Dear Leader” he is still heavily invested in seeing defeat snatched from the jaws of victory in Iraq and seeing the US war effort in Afghanistan go down in flames so even though Froomkin has Obambi’s genitals firmly mounted on his chin even he can push them aside from time to time cheer for team defeatism.

Posted by: SharpshootingPugilist | April 2, 2009 1:59 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, Bush really grabbed the bull by the horns in Iraq and only waited 4 years and after hundreds of thousands of deaths to fire Rumsfeld and add 25% more troops. Yeah that's decisive. And all the while he drained resources from Afghanistan letting the situation there get out of hand just like he did in Iraq. Pakistan could erupt into anarchy and open conflict between its various ethnic groups. And tensions between Pakistan and India are very high. Yeah, W was a brilliant strategist.

Posted by: troyd2009 | April 2, 2009 2:17 PM | Report abuse

Pugilismboy: you seem preoccupied with Obama's genitals and performing oral sex on them what with your desire to perform fellatio on him in your comments yesterday? My my my. You should be ashamed of yourself little man!

Posted by: mickster1 | April 2, 2009 2:46 PM | Report abuse

For everyone’s sake the implementation Kagan, Keane, and Pollack’s plan was better late than never, and give credit where credit is due for Bush spending the last of his political capital to make that a reality. I realize that you think that by reading a couple of op-eds in the Post and going to Thinkprogress occasional that you are now some kind of geo-political Guru on all things central Asia, but Pakistan and India have been at each others throats since their partition and dealing too roughly with the Taliban’s safe havens in Pakistan could trigger a civil war there.

Posted by: SharpshootingPugilist | April 2, 2009 2:46 PM | Report abuse

Pugilismboy: you seem preoccupied with Obama's genitals and performing oral sex on them what with your desire to perform fellatio on him in your comments yesterday? My my my. You should be ashamed of yourself little man!


Funny you should mention that! I though it odd to see the POTUS going down on the Saudi King.

Posted by: SharpshootingPugilist | April 2, 2009 2:59 PM | Report abuse

>Funny you should mention that! I though it odd to see the POTUS going down on the Saudi King.

Yeah, it was pretty funny watching Boy George do that.

Posted by: troyd2009 | April 2, 2009 3:53 PM | Report abuse

It's brilliant! The President has asked the military what they think should be done and is letting them do it. He's asked the military to define measures of success that can be evaluated. When they fail we won't have to listen to them whine about "not being allowed to win".

Posted by: KennyBoy | April 2, 2009 3:55 PM | Report abuse

Oh, they'll whine about it. As Sharpie has shown the military is full of career whiners.

Posted by: troyd2009 | April 2, 2009 3:59 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, it was pretty funny watching Boy George do that.


Well, in all fairness W did only hold hands .. I mean we have full on felatio now! But after looking at Michelle, I cant really blame the guy.

But there aint no whining here ... going to do what I am told, just wish I didn’t have to take orders from such a empty suited snake.

Posted by: SharpshootingPugilist | April 2, 2009 4:13 PM | Report abuse

No, he hasn't justified the uptick in troops yet. But then, I think it's appropriate he not need to yet. He's only had 60 days, and has been a bit preoccupied by the economy. He probably hasn't even met half his generals yet.

Moving troops from Iraq to Afghanistan is not really all that big of a deal. He hasn't even said whether they will be sent into combat. It's just a temporary re-allocation to allow for some flexibility if they decide the eventual strategy requires it.

I am waiting to hear the strategy, then form my own opinion.

In the meantime, now that the media has managed to finally swing their attention back on the Afghanistan ball, they aren't missing the likely REAL pitfall facing the new administration, both politically and militarily. With us finally actually drawing down our Iraq troops (which I support), what happens if Iraqi violence spikes again? Al-Sadr, and a lot of other insurgents, and Sunnis, have likely been waiting for just such a moment to stir up trouble again. I don't think there would be any politically feasible, or militarily feasible, way to start a new surge there all over again. Then the President will have to decide how to humbly acknowledge a lost cause without losing to much political clout.

Posted by: 4afreepress | April 2, 2009 4:25 PM | Report abuse

There are a few pretty good reasons why Afghanistan and Pakistan have been intractable politically and socially for all of recorded history: they're very mountainous. Physically fragmented terrain is nearly impossible to unify politically. There are ways in which comparing Iraq to Pakistan is just: they're both potential wellsprings of terrorist activity. There are ways in which comparing them is flatly witless: Iraq is more or less a flat plain which a few armored divisions and a couple of air squadrons can overrun in a few days, while Afghan/Pakistan, like North Korea, is highly inhospitable terrain to military action, whether in the air or on the ground.

Plus, there's the whole foolish-war-of-choice thing about Iraq that conservatives would love to sweep under the rug. Don't try to defend it. Cheney's secret rationale was to make an example of Iraq to the rest of the world's bad guys. Only, by picking the easiest terrain, and the weakest military, to conquer, and then botching the job, Cheney achieved the opposite. Classic weak bullying of the weak kid at the playground, which impresses nobody.

As for Pakistan, it's a nuclear power and of course we need to proceed with care. It's probably the single country where there's the biggest chance of a radical regime obtaining the power to blackmail the entire planet. But like the financial and economic meltdown: how can Obama repair the entire situation in a few months, or even a few years? You critics claim that those of us who support Obama consider him the messiah. Instead, you yourselves are holding him to standards no messiah could possibly meet.

Posted by: whizbang9a | April 2, 2009 4:30 PM | Report abuse

"But after looking at Michelle, I cant really blame the guy."

Congratulations, you've officially sunk lower than the people you despise. I think David Horowitz may have been trying to reach you directly with his "Obama Derangement Syndrome" post today.

Posted by: BigTunaTim | April 2, 2009 4:58 PM | Report abuse

Its a joke, save the manufactured outrage for Glen Beck.

Posted by: SharpshootingPugilist | April 2, 2009 5:18 PM | Report abuse

Why are we in Afghanistan?

Osama has absconded, and Al-Qaeda has no foot hold in Afghanistan.Bali, London,Madrid,Bombay etc..incidences show terrorists are now scattered all over the world.

I believe we are in Afghanistan to contain terrorism in, and from Pakistan.The mission of Pakistani terrorists is to spread Shariaism.

Lately we have shown conciliatory gestures towards Afghan Taleban.Ironically we expect Pakistan to fight and defeat Taleban.

We used religion to defeat USSR in Afghanistan.It came back to haunt us.I don't think we can defeat Shariaism, while we befriend Zionism.If we continue to practice double standards,we will delay peace for ourselves.

Posted by: mohammadakhan | April 2, 2009 5:41 PM | Report abuse

Sen. Levin said about Pakistan aid plan that "It's got to be that we are supporting Pakistan policies, because if we appear to be buying something they otherwise would not pursue, it is counterproductive". Pakistan got more than 10 billion dollars in US aid over last seven Bush years. Shouldn’t it be that it is Pakistan who should be supporting US policies in return for such huge aid? If US has to be supporting Pakistan’s policies then why to give aid at all?
Sen. Levin is not admitting it but Pakistan has been following a duplicitous policy of ‘running with the hare while hunting with the hounds’ as a ‘thank you note’ for US aid, the aid that Nawaz Sharif, a possible future prime minister has termed ‘no different than that by Bush’.

And Ms. Flournoy is thinking that with recent spate of terrorist attacks, Pakistan will be receptive to idea of going after terrorists. Is this really a wishful thinking on her part or is it reality? To test if Pakistan’s attitude has really changed or not because of latest terrorist attacks, US shall demand that Pakistani government immediately imprison Taliban leaders now residing in Quetta, provincial capital of Baluchistan since Pakistani government knows very well their exact addresses..

US shall also demand that Pakistani government cancel all the peace deals made with Taliban in last one year and order Pakistani Army to initiate a full scale attack against Taliban/Al Qaeda elements residing in Swat valley, Waziristan, FATA and Baluchistan if Pakistan is sincere about supporting US policies against Taliban/Al Qaeda and if Pakistan wants US aid to continue.

Posted by: simplesimon33 | April 2, 2009 7:34 PM | Report abuse

Have to agree, sadly, with a number of the commenters on here.

Look, the military can't win in Afghanistan, even if we sent all the troops that were in Iraq.

The solution isn't military.

And Karzai AT BEST controls 40 percent of Afghanistan, with the economics against him (time and troops wasted on drug interdiction).

Add to the mix the reality that Pakistan ISI is still arming the terrorists and providing them with safe havens, plus the continued and unimpeded money flows from Saudi Arabia, combined with the terrorist-creating madrassas funded by Saudi Arabia with Saudi fanatics, and then add into the mix the flow of volunteers from the Saudis.

None of which this impacts.

Half of war is economic.

Fire the General and rethink what the GOAL is. If the goal is to rebuild the roads and attack al-Qaeda, take on Saudi Arabia directly and indirectly on all fronts, while doing the same with Pakistani elements that support them.

But don't lie to yourself about winning a mountain war against a native population you have very little connection with.

(caveat - I've only been on some counter-terrorism ops and only served in four mountain units)

Posted by: WillSeattle | April 2, 2009 9:03 PM | Report abuse

When you're trying to flush a rabbit out of a burrow, standing by the hole is counter-effective. The rabbit usually has another way out, and knows you're right there.

When you're trying to decapitate Al Quaeda or the Taliban ..... maybe the better tactic would be to pull back, let them re-emerge from their burrows. The only thing that unites the Afghans is having a foreign invader - whether NATO or arabs. By pulling back we can defuse some of the problem in Afghanistan made by big-footprint foreign troops, and look for rodents coming out of burrows.

Posted by: Mill_in_Mn | April 2, 2009 9:04 PM | Report abuse

No country more than America seeks to impose its will on other nations and peoples.

It was America's invasion of Iraq that gave Al Qaeda a foothold.

America's willingness to trample the lives of ordinary Afghanis will bolster the Taliban and it will drive ordinary people into their arms.

America is silly when it thinks that it can use force to make people submit to its will because that approach is disrespectful of Afghanis.

America is setting itself up for another catastrophe just like it engineered in Vietnam. If the Taliban thrives in Afghanistan and Pakistan it will be because of US efforts to tell other what they will do and those others will tell the US that it has had enough of them.

Posted by: robertjames1 | April 3, 2009 1:06 AM | Report abuse

What's most disturbing about the situation is the way that Pakistan got added into the mix, almost mindlessly.

On the other hand, Obama said since his campaign started that he intended to "defeat" those who still wish to conduct terrorist activities against the U.S., and those people are in the mountains on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

On the other hand, once again, let's remember that although the 9-11 hijackers apparently trained in Afghanistan and/or Pakistan, they were all Arabs, none of them Afghan or Pakistani. With that in mind, there's got to be a better way to contain Al Qaeda and deprive them of Arab recruits than to try to fight a war in the Hindu Kush.

AS for Afghanistan, one school of thought is that it's a failed state, that it ought to be divided up between Pakistan, Iran, and one or two of those Central Asian republics that used to be part of the Soviet Union.

Posted by: bfieldk | April 3, 2009 2:21 AM | Report abuse

A strong President can lead us to victory.

Have you heard that before?

Well, it is still true.

Is Dan ready to surrender, yet?

Posted by: GaryEMasters | April 3, 2009 5:10 AM | Report abuse

"That one isn't won yet whatever you think."

No. But it looks better there.

What is so great about losing? Why wish for defeat?

Posted by: GaryEMasters | April 3, 2009 5:15 AM | Report abuse

"That one isn't won yet whatever you think."

No. But it looks better there.

What is so great about losing? Why wish for defeat?

Posted by: GaryEMasters | April 3, 2009 5:15 AM | Report abuse

The real question is why we are intervening in a civil war instead of pursuing our own ostensible interests. When Bin Laden was being sheltered by Afghanistan there was some excuse for invading, but of course he was not captured. Why isn't the priority capturing Bin Laden? He's the one who attacked the US. Why aren't those additional troops being used to track him down?

Posted by: skeptonomist | April 3, 2009 9:21 AM | Report abuse


All good points but it seems like the best way to get started is by increasing the number of troops in Afghanistan, and having them help the Afghans build infrastructure and a stable economy, while putting out what fires they can.

As to attacking the root problem in Saudi Arabia, well were going to have to reduce our dependence on oil first. Until we get it into our heads that every time we buy gas we fund terrorism and start acting accordingly, we will remain paralyzed on that front.

Posted by: foxn | April 3, 2009 11:50 AM | Report abuse

Made a case for war? Hardly. Obama is too smart to believe the hooey he's spouting about Afghanistan being somehow a threat to us. War is a boondoggle, and continues to be a semi-legal means of looting the public treasury, and keeping the populace under control with constant fear. When the American public can no longer be convinced that a handful of crazies living in caves requires a billion a week in soldiers and war toys to fight, it doesn't matter who is trying to make the case. It is on the face of it stupid and indefensible, and even Obama can't make this pig fly. He only sounds like he's lying. And I'm an Obama fan. Really makes you think somebody else is pulling the strings.

Posted by: shaman7214 | April 6, 2009 2:08 PM | Report abuse

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