January 9, 2010

Obama's Mission Impossible

Sweet, juicy irony.

According to the New York Times, “Senior White House advisers are frustrated by what they say is the Pentagon’s slow pace in deploying 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan and its inability to live up to an initial promise to have all of the forces in the country by next summer.”

Apparently President Obama is getting a taste of bursting promises and the false hope that drips from them. One administration official said the White House believed the Pentagon misled them by promising to deploy all 30,000. A senior official was quoted as saying, “Gates and Mullen made a clear statement that this would be achieved by summer’s end.”

Obama and the American people have switched shoes for a moment. Many Americans struggle to believe his clear statement that troops will begin withdrawing in July 2011, so this experience could serve as a humbling lesson to the limits of power, with the right attitude.

But Obama’s circle doesn’t seem to possess that. His officials believe they’ve been lied to, that the Pentagon made a false promise, when that promise was none other than Obama’s.

It was Obama who rejected the Pentagon’s options in early November and demanded a more rapid surge, having deemed the Iraq surge too slow. He wanted his “bell curve” pushed to the left so that all his troops would be in Afghanistan by summer 2010 to pull them out in summer 2011. Military officials questioned whether such a rapid deployment was possible.

“General McChrystal and some of his top aides have privately expressed anger at that accusation, saying that they are being held responsible for a pace they never though was realistic,” reports the NYT.

Admiral Mullen recently made an appearance on the Daily Show, where he politely stated, “When President Obama makes a decision and we carry it out.”

Posturing for sure, but the Pentagon will try to carry out any order given to it, even unrealistic orders.

The Pentagon isn’t the one running out of time or suffering from political backlash. Rapid deployment is political pressure form the White House. From Vice President Joseph Biden, General James Jones, the national security adviser, and Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, Thomas E. Donilon, the deputy national security adviser, and Denis R. McDonough, the national security chief of staff.

Basically all those opposed to Obama’s surge.

White House officials denied the New York Times report entirely even as they anonymously spoke to it., as if they believed the American people would really believe them at this point. Leaks are standard Obama fare now, and to dismiss the latest is an insult.

Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, said Friday that the military was moving as rapidly as it could and that reports of tension with the White House amounted to a “fabricated and contrived controversy.” Morrell, who’s notoriously combative with the media, probably said the same for the numerous but accurate leaks that plagued Obama’s lengthy Afghan review.

The chatter sounds like it came from inside his own agency. Down we go into the deep.

Having already promised more than Obama could chew in Afghanistan, He sought the quickest, easiest way out that doesn’t look like withdrawal. One error gave birth to another, forcing the military into an unlikely acceleration. Last month Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez, deputy commander in Afghanistan, said Obama’s schedule would be hard to meet.

“There’s a lot of things that have to line up perfectly,” he said.

This in essence is Obama’s strategy in Afghanistan - for everything to line up perfectly. For US troops to be in by summer 2010, and “step up attacks meant to quickly take out insurgents,” whatever that means. For Karzai to do a 180. For the Afghan army and police to be ready to assume command of the battlefield in two or three years. For the Taliban to negotiate a weak deal.

Then, perhaps, al-Qaeda can be "disrupted, dismantled, and defeated” in Afghanistan and US troops can begin to come home after July 2011. But Obama is already looking nervous only a month into the surge, a sign of how his entire strategy must align exactly.

Having rarely occurred in warfare, perfection sounds like an impossible mission. Will he pull it off?

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