January 13, 2010

The Real Carl Levin

As Chairman of the Senate’s Armed Forces Committee, it would be nice to hear some straight talk out of Carl Levin for a change. Unfortunately that would remove him from his natural element.

Back in September and October, when hysteria over Afghanistan began to boil, you’d be hard pressed to find another Democratic Senator more vocally opposed to Obama’s impending surge.

On September 11th Levin was quoted by CNN as saying, “More trainers, a larger Afghan Army, more equipment to Afghanistan now, for about six months, at least - this is - these are the steps that I believe that we need to take before we consider additional combat forces.”

Levin wouldn’t want to begin considering additional US forces until February 2010 if he was speaking the truth. To an extent he backed up his claim; few Democrats were said to be more upset the day after Obama announced his surge.

David Welna of NPR reported from the Capital Building, “Right off the bat, it was clear President Obama's decision to send another 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan was not sitting well with Carl Levin, the Democrat who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee.”

Fast-forward a month and a half later to today - is Levin’s body possessed by an Obama official?

"The confidence level here of our leaders and the Afghan leaders is higher,” he told reporters on his way out of Kabul. “The new counterinsurgency strategy is taking hold... There is a significant increase in optimism about the possibility of success.”

Such a statement is difficult to comprehend given how much frequently Levin opposed a surge of US forces and touted the Afghan army and police as a viable alternative; his opinion of Karzai is no secret either.

Deliberate doublespeak on Afghanistan from US leadership is incompatible with maintaining public approval.

“Where I have questions is whether the rapid deployment of a large number of U.S. combat forces, without an adequate number of Afghan security forces for our troops to partner with, serves that mission,” Levin told Obama’s generals during Hill meetings following his West Point speech.

At first no contradiction is apparent. Levin might have softened, willing to accept a US surge so long as Afghan security forces take priority. Since Obama’s July 2011 draw-down date depends entirely on Afghan security forces, it’s logical to assume Levin agreed to go along with the plan. But that was in December.

Why is he still so optimistic?

"We only have about 37 percent of the trainers that we need," he told a news conference at Kabul airport... "I was really surprised to see what a major shortfall we have in that area. We need a lot more of our coalition partners to step forward and to provide a lot more of those trainers."

Levin is the latest casualty of false expectations of reality. Counter-narcotics, intelligence, and logistics inconsistencies have already made victims out of many Obama and Pentagon officials - add Afghan security forces and NATO promises to the list. The only real certainty is that moving Afghanistan from Washington is more difficult than envisioned.

Levin said his personal requirement called for 4,235 trainers, but so far only 1,574 were in place.

"It was quite frankly unacceptable,” he complained, “and we need a lot more of our coalition partners to step forward and to provide a lot more of those trainers. I think it's inexcusable... I will be putting greater pressure on our friends and allies to carry out their commitments.”

His reaction is hard to justify when Levin told Obama back in October, “I thought there had not been enough energy devoted to getting the Afghan army and the police up to speed, up to both the much bigger size and much better equipped.”

He didn’t seem to have changed his mind in December, so who is Levin really upset with: NATO or Obama and his planners? Irate over the one aspect he used to justify an increased US military footprint, Levin is hard to take seriously when he sells the war while sighing, "It's so unacceptable to me.”

Without getting too far ahead, the door remains open for an influx of military trainers from NATO countries after Afghanistan’s international conference in London on January 28th. NATO foreign ministers said last month that they’re searching for over 200 additional police and military training teams to send by next year. It remains unclear whether another 3,000 trainers will actually be sent.

But we know Levin isn’t going about recruiting them in the right way. With his war opposition well documented, he blasted NATO for not responding to "the relatively easy part” of the mission.

“This is not where you're up against the Taliban or have people shooting at you... It's one thing when other countries say, 'Well we are not willing to put our troops in combat'. It is hard for us to accept this as we have so many troops, so many brave troops that are here. At a minimum, we ought to expect that our allies will produce the trainers. These are people who are not taking any particular risks.”

But some these trainers are probably supposed to embed themselves in the field. Though he didn’t single out any country in particular, Levin called the overall shortage “a real disappointment.”

Ironic, that’s how we feel about his forked tongue.

This is the same man who raised the idea a “war tax” to pay for Afghanistan, then backtracked by saying George Bush should have done so. And who doubts the war but believes, "the vast majority of Taliban, particularly these low-level Taliban, can be re-integrated providing there is a plan.”

And a man who’s so worried about US military footprints in hostile Muslim countries that he’s open to “all options... not all options, most options,” in Yemen.

So will the real Carl Levin please stand up? Or is this as real as he gets?

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