In his initial assessment of the country, sent to President Obama early last month, McChrystal described an Afghanistan on the brink of collapse and an America at the edge of defeat. To reverse the course of the war, McChrystal presented President Obama with what could be the most momentous foreign-policy decision of his presidency: escalate or fail. McChrystal has reportedly asked for 40,000 additional American troops — there are 65,000 already here — and an accelerated effort to train Afghan troops and police and build an Afghan state. If President Obama can’t bring himself to step up the fight, McChrystal suggested, then he might as well give up.
“Inadequate resources,” McChrystal wrote, “will likely result in failure.”
The magnitude of the choice presented by McChrystal, and now facing President Obama, is difficult to overstate. For what McChrystal is proposing is not a temporary, Iraq-style surge — a rapid influx of American troops followed by a withdrawal. McChrystal’s plan is a blueprint for an extensive American commitment to build a modern state in Afghanistan, where one has never existed, and to bring order to a place famous for the empires it has exhausted. Even under the best of circumstances, this effort would most likely last many more years, cost hundreds of billions of dollars and entail the deaths of many more American women and men.
And that’s if it succeeds. [continued…]
Joe Biden had a question. During a long Sunday meeting with President Obama and top national-security advisers on Sept. 13, the VP interjected, “Can I just clarify a factual point? How much will we spend this year on Afghanistan?” Someone provided the figure: $65 billion. “And how much will we spend on Pakistan?” Another figure was supplied: $2.25 billion. “Well, by my calculations that’s a 30-to-1 ratio in favor of Afghanistan. So I have a question. Al Qaeda is almost all in Pakistan, and Pakistan has nuclear weapons. And yet for every dollar we’re spending in Pakistan, we’re spending $30 in Afghanistan. Does that make strategic sense?” The White House Situation Room fell silent. But the questions had their desired effect: those gathered began putting more thought into Pakistan as the key theater in the region. [continued…]
It’s been known for a while that Biden has been on the other side of McChrystal’s desire for a big escalation of our forces there — the New York Times reported last month that he has “deep reservations” about it. So if the president does decide to escalate, Biden, for the good of the country, should escalate his willingness to act on those reservations.
What he must not do is follow the same weak and worn-out pattern of “opposition” we’ve become all-too-accustomed to, first with Vietnam and then with Iraq. You know the drill: after the dust settles, and the country begins to look back and not-so-charitably wonder, “what were they thinking?” the mea-culpa-laden books start to come out. On page after regret-filled page, we suddenly hear how forceful this or that official was behind closed doors, arguing against the war, taking a principled stand, expressing “strong concern” and, yes, “deep reservations” to the president, and then going home each night distraught at the unnecessary loss of life.
Well, how about making the mea culpa unnecessary? Instead of saving it for the book, how about future author Biden unfetter his conscience in real time — when it can actually do some good? If Biden truly believes that what we’re doing in Afghanistan is not in the best interests of our national security — and what issue is more important than that? — it’s simply not enough to claim retroactive righteousness in his memoirs. [continued…]