Thursday, November 12, 2009

Reports of Obama's decisiveness have been greatly exaggerated

After reports that Obama had finally made a decision on Afghanistan, it turns out he hasn't:
President Barack Obama does not plan to accept any of the Afghanistan war options presented by his national security team, pushing instead for revisions to clarify how and when U.S. troops would turn over responsibility to the Afghan government, a senior administration official said Wednesday.
So, the dithering continues.

I support the idea of having a clearly defined exit strategy -- to the extent that's possible -- as long as it's based on outcomes and not tied to hard dates. Wars are unpredictable. You fight until you've accomplished your mission, not to a date certain. So I have some degree of understanding when Obama says he wants an exit strategy in place before committing the additional troops.

But my understanding only goes so far given that Obama was elected over a year ago. He's had plenty of time to get up to speed and craft an effective strategy. In fact, he announced he'd done so on March 27th. Now, 8 months later, he's acting like all this is new to him and he's having to start from scratch. Reportedly, things haven't changed all that much since then, so that's not an excuse. To the extent things have changed, we can expect them to continue to change, so there's no benefit to waiting.

Meanwhile, we've got tens of thousands of troops in harms way, and the longer Obama takes to commit to a plan, the more danger they are in. As the article points out,
The war is . . . claiming U.S. lives at a record pace as military leaders say the Taliban has the upper hand in many parts of the country.
I don't recall who said a good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow, but it would seem to apply here. Exit strategies are important, but when you're in the middle of it, you go with the plan being recommended by the experts in the field and work out the details later. This isn't a chess match, where the other side is forced to wait until you've calculated every variation and selected the best possible move. The Taliban are taking advantage of this delay to strengthen their position and take new ground.

Obama isn't a military expert, so he should listen to the military experts who advise him. He may not like his options, but that's the nature of war. He wanted the job, and with it comes tough decisions. People will die. Mistakes will be made -- just as they were by Bush and every other commander. But that too is the nature of war.

I fear Obama doesn't understand this.

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