November 9, 2009

30,000 Divisions

Published November 7th, 2009 on Technorati

While White House officials experience déjà vu after President Obama’s leading strategy for Afghanistan once again leaked to the press, the Pentagon must be relieved that deliberation over General McChrystal’s review is nearly complete. That sums up how Obama will likely be greeted - with division.

Administration officials disclosed the source of 30,000 new troops in surprising detail: three Army brigades from the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky. and the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, N.Y. and a Marine brigade. Another 7,000 will defend ISAF’s new division headquarters in Kandahar. An official announcement isn’t expected until after Obama’s trip to Asia (Nov. 11-19), decreasing the odds that the White House willingly informed the press.

Obama only stands to lose by having his newest strategy batted around in public; conversely the American people benefit by knowing his intentions. Democrats generally opposed escalation before Hamid Karzai wiggled back into power, and must have cringed when Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Karzai’s legitimacy among Afghans was "at best, in question right now and, at worst, doesn't exist."

“If we don’t get a level of legitimacy and governance, then all the troops in the world aren’t going to make any difference,” he told the National Press Club.

But Mullen still supports a buildup.

Republicans can’t any more enthused. 30,000 troops won’t satisfy them because General McChrystal’s strategy isn’t satisfied; McChrystal determined 20,000 troops pose a “high risk” of failure, 40,000 a “medium-risk, and 80,000 a “low risk.” Another delay will similarly rankle the GOP. With Afghanistan’s election over, now Obama wants to debate with America’s allies?

Shouldn’t he have been doing that all along?

Waiting until after Asia is a calculated attempt to drum up troops and resources from Europe. McClatchy reports, “The administration... wants to avoid creating the impression - at home and abroad - that the U.S. ‘is going it alone’ in Afghanistan, said one military official.” But with Canada and the Netherlands due to withdraw in 2011 and Britain, Germany, France, Italy, and Australia restrained by domestic pressure, Obama will be hard pressed to evade the impression of “going it alone.”

Time poses a particularly lethal threat. Admiral Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, beginning in May, cited a 12-18 month window to reverse the war; General McChrystal, in his August review, warned of a 12 month deadline. In Obama’s plan, the first combat brigade would arrive in March with the other three following at three-month intervals. Thus the full deployment won’t touch ground until 2011, after that 12 month window snaps shut.

Both parties and their supporters can’t like what they’re seeing in Afghanistan. The war will be hard enough to wage in unity, let alone division.

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