In the Arena


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Leave it to the Weekly Standard to make Barack Obama’s desire to see as many troops in Afghanistan as soon as possible into an attack on Stanley McChrystal. Here’s the actual story: Obama–he is the President, by the way–wanted the next “fighting season” in Afghanistan to be a true test of what’s possible in that benighted place. He wanted, and extracted from the military, a pledge that 95% of the 30,000 additional troops would be in country by July. That was part of what took the Afghan strategy process so long: Obama kept asking the military for a faster deployment schedule.

My sources–and they are multiple–say that Admiral Mike Mullen, Generals David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal promised the President that the troops would arrive on schedule. Then, very quickly, there were reports that the troops couldn’t get there as fast as all that…that it would take longer, November, maybe December. This would limit the Administration’s ability to evaluate the situation a year from now, when the next Afghan policy review is scheduled.

Now there is some dispute as to whether the Pentagon’s alleged recalcitrance is logistical–it takes a lot of effort to move 30,000 troops to a remote place like Afghanistan–or purposeful (and there are those in the Pentagon who insist the bulk of the troops will still arrive on schedule). The military is known to believe that it will take 10 years to successfully conclude this war and wants to build up carefully. The President, on the other hand, wants to know within the next year whether ultimate success is even possible. Are we successfully training Afghan security forces? Are the Taliban losing heart, facing increased US forces? Have we regained control of the insurgency’s center of gravity, in Kandahar City?

In any case, nothing I’ve heard from the White House indicates a frustration with McChrystal. It’s more a desire to keep on top of things, make sure the Pentagon planners and logistics mavens are implementing Obama’s request. The Weekly Standard’s gripe is yet another example of the right trying to make a President who has finally decided to fight this war–after his predecessor completely blew it–seem like a wimp.