Cost of indecision in Afghanistan is too high

November 16, 2009


— The more President Barack Obama examines our options in Afghanistan, the less he likes the choices he sees. But, as the old saying goes, to govern is to choose — and he has stretched the internal debate to the breaking point.

It is evident from the length of this deliberative process and from the flood of leaks that have emerged from Kabul and Washington that the perfect course of action does not exist. Given that reality, the urgent necessity is to make a decision — whether or not it is right.

The cost of indecision is growing every day. The United States and its people, the allies who have contributed their own troops to the struggle against al-Qaida and the Taliban, and the Afghans and their government are waiting impatiently, while the challenge is getting worse.

When Obama became commander in chief, his course of action seemed clear. He was bent on early withdrawal from Iraq and an increase in resources and emphasis on winning in Afghanistan — the struggle he called “a war of necessity.”

He sent 21,000 more troops to hold it together through the Afghan election, and named two new generals, Stanley McChrystal to run the war, and Karl Eikenberry to manage the politics and reconstruction from the ambassador’s office in Kabul.

McChrystal came up with a new plan of battle, emphasizing protection of population centers and requiring up to 40,000 more troops. Eikenberry, we now know, balked, giving voice to the widespread fear that Hamid Karzai, the carry-over winner of the election the ambassador helped arrange, was too weak and corrupt to govern the country effectively, even with an enlarged American force keeping order.

Their disagreement was echoed and amplified throughout the Obama administration. The secretaries of defense and state came down on McChrystal’s side; the vice president and many on the White House political staff with Eikenberry.

The president, notwithstanding his earlier rhetoric and actions, has hesitated to resolve the issue. Obama needs to remember what Clark Clifford said about the president he served, Harry Truman. Clifford, one of Truman’s closest advisers, said the president “believed that even a wrong decision was better than no decision at all.”

While Obama deliberates, his party in Congress shows increasing reluctance to make an all-out commitment to the war effort. The chairmen of two key Senate committees, Foreign Relations and Armed Services, are arguing for retraining Afghan troops — if they can even be found — and turning over more of the burden of fighting to them.

Meantime, events in Afghanistan support McChrystal’s prediction that delay in expanding the American troop commitment will almost certainly lead to gains for the Taliban and greater risk for U.S. and allied troops.

In all this dithering, it’s easy to forget a few fundamentals. Why are we in Afghanistan? Not because of its own claim on us but because the Taliban rulers welcomed the al-Qaida plotters who hatched the destruction of 9/11. The Taliban also oppressed their own people, especially women, but we sent troops because Afghanistan was the hide-out for the terrorists that attacked our country.

We knew governing Afghanistan would never be easy. It had resisted outside forces through the ages, and its geography, its tribal structure, its absence of a democratic tradition and its poverty all argued that once we went in, it would be hard to get out.

But George W. Bush said — and Obama seemed to agree — that withdrawal was not and is not an option.

That imperative is reinforced by the presence of Pakistan, a shaky nuclear-armed power across a porous mountain border. If the Taliban comes back in Afghanistan, the al-Qaida cells already in Pakistan will operate even more freely — and nuclear weapons could fall into the most dangerous hands.

Given all of this, I don’t see how Obama can refuse to back up the commander he picked and the strategy he is recommending. It may not work if the country truly is ungovernable. But I think we have to gamble that security will bring political progress — as it has done in Iraq.

Obama did not believe that could happen there. But given what he inherited, and given what he has done himself so far, I think he has no choice but to play out that hand. If we can’t afford to lose, then play to win.


Paul R Getto 8 years, 4 months ago

It's not as difficult as some would imagine: Bring the troops home now and start building schools for girls and women. Even if the 'evil ones' burn half of them down, we can build faster and cheaper than we can conduct this endless war. Of course, the military industrial complex stands in the way. They see profits as far as the eye can see. Coffin manufacturers are, no doubt, in favor as well.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 8 years, 4 months ago

What are wasting your time here for, Thing. Isn't there something needin' blowin' up, or an evildoer needin' shootin'?

temperance 8 years, 4 months ago

What Nicole Belle said: "Tell you what, Broder, if you're so eager to see some action in Afghanistan, let's see you do one of your patented 'folksy' reports from a coffee shop in Kandahar or Kabul. Otherwise, ST*U and let the people in charge actually make a reasoned and thoughtful decision, since it affects so much in American blood and treasure. We've had eight years of quick rather than right decisions. It's time for the grownups to be in charge now." http://crooksandliars.com/nicole-belle/dean-broder-obama-make-decision-afgha

Boston_Corbett 8 years, 4 months ago

In an article over the weekend the New York Times identifies the annual costs associated with deploying a single member of the military to Afghanistan as one million dollars.

One thousand members thus is one billion dollars per year.

Do we send over 30,000 new troops? 30 billion dollars per year? Is that the best way to expend money to make us safe?

High Costs Weigh on Troop Debate..... http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/15/us/politics/15cost.html

Flap Doodle 8 years, 4 months ago

"Bring the troops home now and start building schools for girls and women." Who is going to be foolhardy enough to waltz around Afghanistan with a hammer and a saw being the happy carpenter while the Taliban guys are shooting people right, left & center?

Satirical 8 years, 4 months ago

Breaking news!

We elected a POTUS with zero executive experience and a record of voting "present" on almost every difficult issue he faced. And we are surprised by his dithering? I guess the country decided we could afford a POTUS who would be learning on the job for the first....term.

sfjayhawk 8 years, 4 months ago

Im afraid the only good decision would be complete withdraw from Afghanistan. Unfortunately that does not look like it is in the cards - this issue could prove disastrous for the Obama administration.

tbaker 8 years, 4 months ago

The problem with Afghanistan is one cannot define victory the old fashioned (easy) way: by defeating the uniformed military of a nation-state by closing with and destroying the enemy by way of combined arms fire and maneuver. "Winning" today's wars against non-state actors is very difficult to define in ways that people understand enough to support for at the end of the day, the center of gravity is the support of the American people.

No matter what course of action the President comes up with, making a general in the field who is asking for resources wait for nearly three months with no answer will undoubtedly erode domestic support for the war and compound the problem the President faces. Each day he delays he is making life tougher on himself, not to mention the troops in the field.

There is no easy way out of Afghanistan. If way stay we must accept the fact the Taliban are Huns. They are roaming packs of savage, heartless beasts who feed on each others barbarism. They are cavemen with AK-47's. As much as we would like to think we could somehow drag them out of the 11th century and enlighten them and fill them with a sense of love and brotherhood toward their fellow man, we can't. They simply must be exterminated where ever they are found. Complete withdraw sounds great, but if we do we must be ready for these animals to not only re-take Afghanistan and embolden Al Qaeda, but to topple the government in Pakistan and take control of nuclear weapons.

jaywalker 8 years, 4 months ago

I'm reminded of the ominous voice in the Amityville Horror when it said, "Geeeet Ooouut!"

Kirk Larson 8 years, 4 months ago

"Given that reality, the urgent necessity is to make a decision — whether or not it is right. "

This is about the stupidest thing any pundit has said in a long time. I don't fault the President for taking some time to make the best choice he can from the limited pile of crap he was handed. From all I've read, the top brass except McChrystal support his being deliberate. McChrystal is just knee-jerk "more guns, more bodies".

tbaker 8 years, 4 months ago

Cappy - Please tell me who among the "top brass" support this sort of presidential indecision? From "all you've read", you should be able to name them and cite a source.

Your characterization of GEN McChrystal is equally baseless. Don't forget it was the President who fired his predecessor and hand-picked him for the job. I also happen to know the man and served with him in Iraq. You couldn't be more wrong about him.

Go trowel-out your insipid tripe somewhere else. Adults are talking here.

jaywalker 8 years, 4 months ago

"From all I've read, the top brass except McChrystal support his being deliberate. McChrystal is just knee-jerk “more guns, more bodies”."

Talk out your rear much?

JHOK32 8 years, 4 months ago

Lets just all keep this situation in perspective..........Obama is trying to clean up the hell hole of a mess that Bush created without costing anymore lives than have already been lost during this ungodly mess. First Bush jumps us into the middle of a war thats factions have been fighting since biblical days so I doubt it's going to end in our lifetime ( this is a no-brainer), then the same Bush who cannot speak coherent sentences ends up nearly creating the 2nd great depression by totally wrecking the entire American economy............so how's about we back off Obama for a minute, he definitely has saved thousands of jobs which would had also gone by the wayside if Bush's brilliant strategies were still being used.......he may take a bit more time than Bush did, but just perhaps he'll get it right instead of having the hell hole of a disaster the rest of us have been left with while he's Bush is out vacationing somewhere on our dollar (probably with all the new Exxon-Mobil and AIG $Billionaires he created which nearly bankrupt our entire country!). Give Obama a break !!!

tbaker 8 years, 4 months ago

JHOK32: You know what your old, tired, irrelevant Bush bashing sounds like? It sounds like you are making excuses for President Obama. You remember what Obama said about Afghanistan during the campaign - right? You remember he said he had a new strategy last March when he hired GEN McChrystal? You remember he said he had a new strategy last August - right?

If he has all this new strategy and he has his own hand-picked guy running things then why the delay? Thats the salient question. It makes him look either incompetent or detached. President Bush isn't making President Obama look bad - he's doing that all by himself.

Brent Garner 8 years, 4 months ago

Obama doesn't care who wins in Afghanistan. No, this is all about him. IF he sends more troops the looney lefties will roast him. IF he pulls out the Taliban/Al-Quaida will win and he will get roasted from the other side. What he wants is a strategy that let's him look good. Its all about him, not what needs to be done.

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