In the Arena

Troops Before Policy?

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The President’s decision send 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan is troubling on several grounds:

1. We don’t have a policy there yet. We don’t know what the goal is–or how we’re going to deal with the Pakistan part of the equation (which is where the more serious military issues lie), or the corruption of the Karzai government. 

2. I assume this decision has something to do with the deteriorating situation on the ground, including the recent attacks within Kabul. It will be interesting to see how these troops are deployed.

3. This comes two days after the usually reliable David Cloud of Politico reported that Obama was holding off on a troop decision. I linked to that story and feel foolish for doing so. In fact, there’s been a steady stream of unreliable leaks coming out of the Pentagon–about troop levels, about the Defense budget–that seem to be emanating from a cadre that opposes the Obama Administration. In the future, I’m going to double-check the stories that use unnamed sources at the Pentagon before linking to them. (As well as to continue my own reporting on the Af/Pak conundrum.)

Update: This was what Robert Gibbs had to say about the deployment yesterday–(thanks to Michael Scherer for bringing it to my attention; I was flying home from the Middle East):

That administration, as you all know, has started a 60-day review of our policy in the region, headed by Bruce Riedel.  The situation in Afghanistan has been deteriorating for quite some time.  And in order to stem that, the President has ordered the additional troops.  That does not prejudge the outcome of the review process, but allows us instead to — allows us instead to meet an urgent need for more troops in a deteriorating security situation in advance of the traditional Taliban offensives in the spring, and also leading up to ensuring secure elections later in the year. 

So, it’s essentially a holding action–a slightly beefed up version of what Obama had proposed during the campaign, which can be augmented, or not, once the Riedel policy review is complete. 

Also, and predictably enough, commenters are slagging me for a) trusting Politico and b) not double-checking everything I link to here…which is ridiculous, of course. David Cloud, who came to Politico from the New York Times, is a responsible and well-regarded defense reporter, someone whose work–like Tom Ricks, Yochi Dreazen and Thom Shanker–I find eminently trustworthy on military affairs. What I was commenting on was the phenomenon of inaccurate and misleading anti-Obama leaking at the Pentagon, which should give us all pause. Now that I”m back from the Middle East, I plan to dig into the Administration’s Afghan decision-making process and find out what’s actually happening here.