President Obama has just finished speaking. It was a cool delivery, serious but without passion. I will paraphrase the speech highlights. He reviewed 911, describing how Al Qaeda, harbored by the Taliban in Afghanistan, planned and carried out the attacks on us and how we responded by obtaining a UN resolution and NATO commitment. Under the banner of domestic unity and international agreement, the Taliban was deposed and replaced. For six years Iraq drained resources from Afghanistan. But today Iraq is a success, and the end of US military involvement there is on the calendar.

But today, the Taliban is making headway in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The president’s new goal is the defeat of Al Qaeda and its allies. Because Al Qaeda retains safe havens along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, action must be taken. General McCrystal’s assessment that the status quo is not sustainable requires us to act.

“I owe you a mission that is clearly defined.” Obama then defended the three month delay because nothing was on his desk requiring action before January. He will commit 30 thousand troops for a period of 18 months. The president mentioned the polarized partisan atmosphere and the current burdens on the economy without explicitly acknowledging that they have affected his Afghan strategy. “We must keep the pressure on Al Qaeda and we must increase the stability of our partners.”

He pointed out that Al Qaeda hasn’t stopped its threats to us and our allies. He acknowledged that terrorists seek and will use nukes. Therefore we must deny them a safe haven. “We need to reverse the Taliban’s momentum” and strengthen the Afghan legitimate government. We will employ a multi-pronged approach. This military prong is designed to break insurgent momentum and help training of local security forces. Obama repeated, “We must end this war successfully.”

Any pull-out deadline “is to be executed responsibly taking into conditions on the ground”.

Another prong of the strategy is to improve civilian performance. We will “open the door” to Taliban members who renounce violence and agree to play by the rules. Another prong of the effort: We need to work both sides of the border, containing the cancer. Pakistan is a partner. We need to cultivate their help.

Obama disagreed that Afghanistan is another Vietnam. In one of the better passages in his speech, he pointed out that, unlike Vietnam, we have a broader coalition; we were attacked, and that the Taliban is not a popular insurgency.

He disagrees with those who argue that we can hold Afghanistan with current forces because we need to provide “security space” for the local forces to train and assume responsibility.

In the most sensitive part of Obama’s speech he defended the notion of having and announcing a pullback deadline. “We cannot afford open ended commitment.” A deadline places constructive pressure on locals. This echoed Senator Obama’s Iraq arguments. Then he pointed out that the US “can’t ignore the price of these wars”. The surge will cost 30 billion.

Obama’s best substantive quote: “The nation I’m most interesting building is our own.”

The speech ended with some applause lines. He stressed the necessity of nuke containment, the value of diplomacy. Then he talked about values. “I will prohibit torture and we will close Guantanamo”. [All my quotes are approximate.]

The President told the assembled cadets that the US has not sought world domination, instead “we have fought for a better future for our children”, whose lives are better when other children “have freedom and opportunity”. That won the first applause. In his strongest applause line (there were three by my count) he praised the idealism of military service. In his last applause line, he said, “We were unified after 911 and I refuse to accept that we will not be unified again.” I would have joined in that applause, while wondering about the hopeful assessment.

He ended with, “our cause is just and our will is unwavering.”


“We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and the oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air; we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

Winston Churchill

Headline: Obama Will Announce a Limited Afghanistan Surge

“Taken together, these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011.”

Barak Obama

The key elements in the president’s announced strategy:

30,000 new troops over the next six months,
A request to NATO for an additional 5-10 thousand troops,
An attempt to train more Afghani troops and security forces and
Exit dates for the additional troops – July, 2011 and more “to be announced”.

Some comments:

This represents 25% fewer troops than General McCrystal urgently requested ninety two days ago.

The hoped for NATO contribution is problematic on two counts: (A) NATO may not come through. (B) NATO troops have not bought into McCrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy. This will be a problem because the counterinsurgency plan involves the real prospect of higher short-term casualties (see below).

Everyone agrees that more Afghani security forces need to be trained and brought on line.  This requires the intense and dependable long term commitment of significant American resources.  Think of recruiting and training new firefighters who don’t speak English, who don’t trust foreigners, all in the middle of a general conflagration, complicated by snipers who want the fire to succeed.

Announced exit dates are good for domestic consumption, but invite gaming by our enemies.  The June 2011 date is an obvious lead-in to the Democratic presidential primaries.

The remaining issues are a test of our new president’s leadership abilities, because the memories of the 911 attacks have faded, and the opportunities for political gaming on the left and right may be too tempting to resist.

All that aside, we have only one president. I am happy to give him the benefit of the doubt today and to pray for success in this initiative. President Obama earned kudos for the political courage to forge ahead in Afghanistan, spending valuable political capital in the bargain.

This is as much as can be expected of any 21st century liberal democrat, given the mood of the core leftwing constituency that controls the party machinery. As long as this president stays the course, he will certainly have my support and that of realistic liberals, national security conservatives and friends of liberty everywhere.

I believe that the President’s delay in rolling out his Afghanistan war position was a political calculation. The delay was not primarily driven by the time needed for a careful a national security strategic review (that part was done weeks ago). It was a sales strategy review, much like any business would carefully choose the most propitious date to roll out its latest software or hardware.

I am personally convinced that the President’s advisors fully expected that the president’s political capital would have already driven though that over-ambitious health care reform package by now, with plenty left over for other initiatives. Whoops….

But the demands of national security can be stalled only so long. Even this 92 day delay coveys the image of an administration in the middle of a shooting war huddled in a defensive crouch. The three months delay in the “surge” announcement, coupled with a nod to the “get out deadline” crowd, resurrect memories of famous one-term democratic president whose popularity went from stratosphere to bathysphere in two years. Political observers with intact memories all can sense the ghost of Lyndon Baines Johnson and the looming, eerie premonition of LBJ’s Vietnam failure.

Our new president’s speech at West Point artfully conveys more that it really says, leaving one immense question dangling: Do we now have a more clever strategy to win or do we have another war-by-nuance?

Obama has talked the talk. Now comes the walk-under-fire part.

The Stakes

Afghanistan and Pakistan will become one of two things within the lifetimes of most Americans now alive:

(1) Armageddistan, the nuclear armed jihadist axis, the nightmare of the 21st century;

(2) Stable, non-threatening countries (noting here that the nominally democratic source of that stability is a separate and subordinate question).

Yes, both options are costly, but the first one, which happens to be the path of least resistance, virtually guarantees a nuclear war that could take out part of America.

The second option requires us, with or without the substantial assistance of allies, to expend more military and economic resources than most of us would like for more months and years than anyone wants.

The Players

Fortunately, we now have a military team in-country with sufficient experience and sophistication to achieve the second goal within a few years, if they are provided the resources they need in time.

Hence the leadership challenge of our new president.

We are locked in the classic Venus Flytrap dilemma presented by terror states with 21st century weapons:

Once we’re engaged, we can’t exit the field without ruinous consequences. Those voices clamoring for an American exit are willing to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory: because we are more than half way to the goal. Our premature exit from Afghanistan would ignite a chain of events far more harmful and costly to us than the expense of winning even a protracted counterinsurgency in this putatively remote part of the world. I say putatively remote because we are living on a much tinier planet than that inhabited by the British and Soviet forces that ran aground in Afghanistan. The 911 plot to destroy the pentagon, America’s great financial center and our political nerve center in a single decisive blow almost succeeded. That plot was hatched in Afghanistan with the covert support of Pakistani radicals and others in the Middle East.

We owe this bitter cross to the infamous Abduk Qadeer Kahn, the Dr. Strangelove of Arab hyper-nationalism, the rogue scientist who, with the aid and comfort of our covert and duplicitous enemies in the region, brought the blessings of the atomic bomb to Pakistan, then facilitated the spread of that malevolent technology of death via Korea to Syria and Iran.

Had we acted with sufficiently intelligent ruthlessness, say, ten years ago, we would not find ourselves at this cross. And we can say with reasonable certainty that if we are now to fail to seize this one last opportunity to actually win, our children will be debating whose fault it was that twelve million lives (or more), Americans and others, went up in that infamous 21st century nuclear conflagration.

The “Strategory”

The best succinct review of the military situation in Afghanistan-Pakistan I’ve yet encountered was written by Max Boot in Commentary Magazine ( ).

The core of Boot’s analysis is this:

“When General Stanley McChrystal was selected on May 11 of this year as the American and NATO commander in Afghanistan, it was by no means certain which approach he would employ. His background is almost entirely in counterterrorism. He had been head of the Joint Special Operations Command (comprising elite units such as the Army’s Delta Force and the Navy’s SEALs) when it was carrying out daring raids to capture Saddam Hussein and kill Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. If he had decided to follow the same approach in Afghanistan, he would have had the support of Vice President Joe Biden and numerous congressional Democrats who favor a narrow counterterrorism strategy to fight al-Qaeda and who want to cut the number of American troops to a bare minimum.”

“But that is not what McChrystal has chosen to do. He has decided, as he put it in an “interim assessment” dated August 30 that was later leaked to Bob Woodward of theWashington Post, that “success demands a comprehensive counterinsurgency (COIN) campaign.” A close reading of that document, which was directed at the Pentagon and White House, as well as the “Counterinsurgency Guidance” drafted at his behest around the same time and directed at his own troops, provides a window into his thinking. It shows why a COIN campaign is needed, how it would be carried out, and why the kind of narrow counterterrorism effort favored by so many amateur military strategists is unlikely to succeed.”

The new strategy requires additional forces that are more commingled with the population and therefore, at least temporarily, more exposed to danger. The request for additional troops by Mr. Obama’s chosen general is essential to eventual success. As Mr. Boot put it:

“To carry out his strategy, McChrystal must have more resources, especially more troops. In his assessment, he writes, “Resources will not win this war, but under-resourcing could lose it.” NATO’s war effort has in fact been under-resourced for years, “operating in a culture of poverty,” as McChrystal puts it. That has made it impossible to carry out classic counterinsurgency operations, because those typically require a ratio of roughly 1 counterinsurgent per 50 civilians. Given Afghanistan’s population of 30 million, 600,000 counterinsurgents would be necessary. At the moment, the total is roughly 270,000 (170,000 Afghans, 64,000 Americans, 35,000 from other nations). Actual force planning, however, is too intricate to be reduced to such back-of-the-envelope calculations. Unique local characteristics have to be taken into account, such as the fact that the insurgency is largely confined to the Pashtun, an ethnic group that comprises 42 percent of the population.”

“McChrystal and his staff have drawn up a range of recommendations on extra troop levels. The respected military analysts Frederick and Kimberly Kagan, who have consulted for McChrystal, have completed a study of their own that suggests a need for 40,000 to 45,000 additional troops, to be concentrated in eastern and southern Afghanistan. Such a number is reportedly at the high end of what McChrystal has recommended, but in war it’s always better to have too many troops than too few.”

“Too few, however, is what he may get.”

Max Boot is no lightweight, and he is certainly NOT one who speaks “yes” to power. He is a Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of “War Made New: Technology, Warfare, and the Course of History, 1500 to Today”. Max Boot is a leading expert in the history of guerrilla warfare and terrorism.

Our president is a liberal political leader who is attempting, much as Lyndon Baines Johnson did, to accommodate the left wing of the Democratic Party to reality, while moving incrementally towards a commitment to actually win a war. We find ourselves, once again, in a situation that requires Churchillian steadfastness. And some of us may fear that we have something less.

But, today, President Obama deserves credit for not abandoning Iraq and not signaling the abandonment of Afghanistan. As I said at the outset, this may be the best that can be expected from a liberal democrat still captive to the leftwing of that party, a political institution that in different times produced Harry Truman and Henry Scoop Jackson, but one that now appeases Code Pink while evicting men of integrity like Joe Lieberman.

I personally believe that our new president has been made aware of the stakes, and that he is attempting to thread the needle, negotiating a narrow path most acceptable to the coalitions of the moment on which his larger agenda depends.


FDR did not announce a deadline by which we would either defeat the Nazis in Europe and the Axis in Japan, or leave the struggle to the locals. FDR did not parse the budget where national security is concerned. We defeated our enemies (who it must be remembered were also the enemies of liberal Western Civilization) because the USA had one single, overriding goal: VICTORY FOR US, DEFEAT FOR THEM.

The author, Jay B. Gaskill, is a California attorney who served as the Alameda County Public Defender, then left his “life of crime” to devote full time to writing.

His new thriller, The Stranded Ones, is available as a downloadable E Book.

More about the book at: (without graphics) (with graphics)

Buy a copy at ireadiwrite — [This is the publisher & author-preferred source]

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