Thursday, November 26, 2009

Obama circling the block on Afghanistan

After some reflection, I agree with Fred Kaplan, Andrew Exum, and my supervisor (a USMCR Gunnery Sergeant recently returned from Iraq and contemplating a deployment to Afghanistan) that it's fair for President Obama to do his own review of the Afghanistan mission, even if he ultimately arrives at a very similar conclusion to that of President Bush.

Perception-wise, the main problem is that President Obama seemed certain about Afghanistan when he was Candidate Obama and earlier in his presidency, and that doesn't fit with his present uncertainty about Afghanistan.

It's important to note that it's not that we're doing nothing in Afghanistan right now. At minimum, Obama is continuing the status quo mission and COIN adjustments he inherited from Bush. As much as I wish Candidate Obama actually understood the Afghanistan situation as well as he claimed, so that he felt comfortable making these decisions earlier in his presidency, I think it's fair for President Obama to work through the problem for himself rather than simply accept the answers that have been presented to him. It'd be silly to believe the hype that President Bush didn't think thoroughly about the Afghanistan problem, but even so, it's understandable for Obama to hope to find something that Bush missed. That's a natural expectation for any change of command.

There just aren't any easy answers or good choices for the Afghanistan mission. The only reasonable reason for optimism for the mission is that COIN made a difference in Iraq and it might make a difference in Afghanistan. Ultimately, I suspect President Obama will circle the block and arrive at the same or similar conclusions as President Bush did.

Add: I also use 'circle the block' in this comment on Professor Nacos' blog describing another decision by President Obama.


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