In the Arena

Undiplomatic or Strategic?

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I’m a big fan of former Ambassador Jim Dobbins, who has served in Afghanistan and knows an awful lot about how to conduct development programs in counterinsurgency situations, but I don’t think he’s being very fair in criticizing Ambassador Karl Eikenberry here.

For one thing, Eikenberry’s cables, which favored the witholding of additional U.S. troops until Hamid Karzai’s government gets its act together, were secret. He has every right, indeed a responsibility, to make his views known in this situation. It’s not his fault that the cables were leaked.

For another, it’s not clear that Eikenberry and McChrystal are in disagreement with each other. They may be, but it’s also possible that McChrystal has no problem with the Ambassador putting Bad Cop pressure on the Karzai government. Certainly, it would make McChrystal’s task easier if the Afghan government got its act together. It’s also not clear that Eikenberry opposes McChrystal’s ultimate plan–because we’re talking about a very long timeline here: the last of the brigades that McChrystal has apparently requested would not arrive in Afghanistan until 2011. It is quite possible to do both: to pressure Karzai–who must understand that the U.S. military is the only thing standing between him and the Taliban–and then to send an appropriate number of troops.

There has been, it seems to me, entirely too much posturing on Afghanistan strategy by people who (a) do not understand the complexities of the policy rollout and (b) have a political interest in taking sides, especially against the President. I don’t think Jim Dobbins is guilty of either of those misdemeanors, but I also think this is one of those rare occasions when he’s off the mark.