In the Arena

The Afghanistan Decision

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Here’s the most comprehensive, and careful, report I’ve seen so far about the decisions the President has made on Afghanistan. My sense, from conversations with assorted Administration officials, that the big news not yet reported will have to do with time limits for the U.S. military presence–though not a fixed withdrawal schedule–that Obama will set in his speech tonight.

It seems that there’s something for everyone to dislike in this policy: the left won’t like the escalation, the right won’t like the time limits or the fact that the President isn’t giving General McChrystal the full complement of troops requested (although I’m told that Generals Petraeus and McChrystal, and Admiral Mike Mullen are satisfied with the plan).

Although I’m ambivalent about all of this, my initial feeling is that the President has probably done the right thing here: a quick boost in fighting forces to try to bring the insurgency under control, a long-term recognition that the Taliban will always be a factor in Afghan politics married to an effort to limit the insurgents’ reach in population center and wean some of the fighters off the battlefield. He is also sending a clear message to the Pakistanis–who are the real concern here–that we will not be abandoning Afghanistan anytime soon and that we’re interested in a long-term strategic alliance that includes economic, humanitarian and (targeted) military aid.

But the best thing about the policy is that Obama has made himself completely accountable: we will know whether this enormous gamble is working within two years, in plenty of time for the next election. I’ll have more to say about that in my print column this week.