Patterico's Pontifications


Afghanistan: Obama Signals He Will Steer Middle Course Between Buffoon and Knowledgeable General

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:12 am

The L.A. Times reports:

Asking for patience until he completes an assessment of the situation over the next few weeks, the president urged lawmakers to keep their minds open to a nuanced range of options.

Obama did not indicate to the bipartisan group whether he is leaning toward or against a significant troop escalation. Instead, he suggested he is looking at the middle range of the spectrum, somewhere between a major increase in forces and a large drawdown.

Stay the course!

Of course, when Obama is the President, “stay the course” in a losing situation is not evidence of a stubborn intransigence, like it was with Bush. It’s evidence that Obama is someone who seeks out a statesmanlike middle ground.

“The president reiterated that we need this debate to be honest and dispense with the straw man argument that this is about either doubling down or leaving Afghanistan,” one senior administration official said after the meeting ended.

It’s not a strawman if it’s true. And General McChrystal — or as senior administration officials disrespectfully call him, “Stan” — thinks we need the extra troops.

But, you know, the buffoon whom Obama made Vice President thinks we should lower the number of troops.

So the statesmanlike middle ground Obama seeks is somewhere between the opinion of the buffoon, and the opinion of the general who actually knows what he’s talking about.

Yeah, this is much better than having a President who swings entirely to one side of an issue — like committing to a (winning) surge strategy in Iraq.

37 Responses to “Afghanistan: Obama Signals He Will Steer Middle Course Between Buffoon and Knowledgeable General”

  1. The “fail slower” option.

    Kevin Murphy (3c3db0)

  2. Going from Bush to Obama is like going into opposite world for the media.

    Just imagine if Bush handed out white lab coats for a photo op. I never saw CNN do a fact check on a Saturday Night Live skit about Bush.

    Today’s definition of a news reporter: political operative.

    Alta Bob (e8af2b)

  3. Wonder if Slo – Joe thinks we should just divide Afghanistan up into four pieces.

    Dmac (5ddc52)

  4. Back during the campaign, Afghanistan was a lot of fun for Obama to argue about — it was the “war of necessity” where we needed more troops, which had been foolishly deployed to Iraq, that bad “war of choice.”

    Now, instead of political salesmanship, he’s got to try to figure out policy, and with Iraq being an increasingly lousy place for jihadis to do bidness, they’re heading toward Afghanistan, which was never quite as easy a thing as the initial destruction of the Taliban regime made it seem.

    All of which is that Afghanistan is just another demonstration of how Obama’s got himself stuck between Iraq and a hard place.

    Joel Rosenberg (ab94ff)

  5. Obama is in a real box here – one that He made Himself.

    Promising to be the competent Commander in Chief who could win in Afghanistan, He appears to be selecting a strategy where we fly a bunch of drones over the mountains and blast away at what we think are bad guys. Of course this won’t produce any meaningful result and will end up allowing the Taliban to re-overrun this basket case of a country. Of course the terror camps will return and we can expect another 9/11 on our soil – perhaps featuring an Iranian nuclear bomb.

    Obama has proven Himself to be a foreign policy dolt. ( for more on the Afghanistan ‘box’ you can view )

    MAS1916 (9c3ecb)

  6. Fear not! The Progressive Caucus will protect Obama from himself.

    If Obama ultimately decides to send more troops to Afghanistan, Edwards suggested that a large number of majority Democrats will abandon him when it comes time to vote for extended funding of the war. “In order to go forward to continue the funding,” she said, “it is going to be largely, I think, a Republican vote that would stand with the president, if that’s the decision that he makes.”

    Whoo, doggie! I’m sure those Blue Dog Democrats will be more than thrilled to go back to their districts and explain to Americans why funding was cut on an ongoing military operation and the Afghanis were left to swim in a pool of their own blood. Even Medea Benjamin at Code Pink is reassessing their call for a pullout by 2011 after meeting with female activists in Kabul.

    “Rethink Afghanistan” is the work of left-wing documentary filmmaker Robert Greenwald. Featuring commentary by war critics Juan Cole, Robert Baer, and others, the movie calls for the U.S. military offensive in Afghanistan to be replaced by a large-scale humanitarian effort.

    No mention as to how those who will be running this “large-scale humanitarian effort” will be, you know, protected from Taliban and al qaeda terrorists, who don’t seem to give a rat’s ass what good one is doing in country.

    Our president is between a rock and a hard place and, apparently, believes he can make himself skinny enough to slip on through. Good luck with that.

    BJTexs (a2cb5a)

  7. The half-a-loaf answer is what Bush would have done – 2005, under the Rumsfeld DoD.

    Obama seems, by refusing to learn from recent history, to want to make his own mistakes.

    JEM (a0f32a)

  8. I don’t know why you guys are so incensed. Seems to me that Obama has learned a lesson from repeated experiences that meeting-in-the-middle works out fine.

    For example, if I want no government health care and he wants total government control of health care, we meet in the middle with the government controlling half of health care. (approx. where we are now) Then a year (or a month) later we do the same thing again, split the difference, and we’ve got 3/4 government health care. The comforting thing for conservatives is that we will NEVER get to TOTAL government health care because it’s mathematically impossible! (Bwha ha ha ha) It will max out at 99.999% government health care!

    So see? Obama has learned from long experience that meeting in the middle works for him. I’d like to try it myself. Obama wants to be in Washington, and I’d like him to be in Afghanistan. So that leaves him…

    Gesundheit (47b0b8)

  9. Keep this in mind, gentle readers. Obama is so sophisticated, intelligent and nuanced that he knows better than to consult his commander in Iraq That buffoon, George Bush, wanted to talk to military commanders instead of rely on the tried and true filtered information of the chain of command. You commoners just don’t understand. I understand because I read that preeminent authority on military affairs, Mark Thompson of Time magazine.

    Yeah, I’m losing faith in success in Afghanistan. I just wish Obama would realize that sometimes you do need to win a war and that his true enemies are not US citizens.

    SomeOtherSteve (d88371)

  10. What if you’re the POTUS and you come to a horrible conclusion — the “war of necessity” you campaigned on isn’t, and isn’t winnable, by any reasonable definition of the term. You decide that the most the US can do in Afghanistan is, maybe, through a huge expenditure of blood and treasure over more than another decade, push back the tide of resurgent bloodthirsty Pashtun Muslim nutsoness for a time.

    (I’m not sure, by the way, that that’s an unreasonable conclusion.)

    Given that, when an utterly terrific general tells you that, absent a lot more troops, his mission will fail, what is the right thing to do?

    Given the hypothetical, I think the right thing to do is admit that one was wrong, and pull the troops out, taking the political hit. Given that, I think the POTUS doesn’t have the moral right to expend another soldier’s life there on anything except covering the withdrawal.

    As a practical matter, the Biden approach really is just a withdrawal in a more politically palatable form — it’s like when Reagan pulled the Marines out of Beirut under the figleaf that they were simply being “redeployed.” Way back when, when I wrote that it was, simply, retreat, I got a nasty note from Bill Rusher explaining that I was wrong, and that “conservative hysterics” like me were missing the retribution that was going to follow the well-thought-out redeployment…

    I wish he’d been right. He wasn’t.

    Joel Rosenberg (2c0a25)

  11. I can’t read the signals this president is sending on any issue–is it in Morse Code or something? I wish that he’d just develop a strategy on any issue and stick with it, but instead we’re treated to endless campaigning that accomplishs nothing but contempt for this country by our enemies, and increasingly, by our allies.

    Rochf (ae9c58)

  12. WWSD?

    (What would SEIU Do?)

    As I understand it, our C-I-C meets weekly in the Oval Office with a SEIU representative to plot strategy. Since next to overturning our health care system, and maybe soaring unemployment, and getting the Olympics for his cronies back in Chacago, and date night with Michelle and meetings with an astro-turf group of docs, and…there is NOTHING more important than the overseas war picnic engagement in Afghanistan.

    Joe is counseling flying kites or something to scare the misunderstood locals – and we can take Joe’s superior knowledge about warfare and geo-politics to the bank cuz he’s been right on these issues for 30+ years. (Do you know Joe even subscribes to National Geographic to keep up on the changing world?) Barack even called in Colin Powell to hear how to surrender.

    Now, who are these guys Dave & Stan that have been banging on their cups for the last 3 monoths? Whadda they possibly know?

    Obama will send half+1 of what General McChrystal is asking for as a “compromise”. Coupling that with the not so quiet talk about winding down our military effort in 2012, what message will the Taliban and al Qaeda come away with? As the British General said: losing this war will embolden beyond measure the terrorists and their enablers. Prepare for sharply increased and bloody attacks on our troops and those of the NATO allies. First the enemy will kill enough NATO troops on the ground and threaten NATO nations with terrorist attacks at home that those countries will withdraw their troops, leaving us and England to slog on together. They the focus will turn on us. Obama’s indecisiveness and failure to commit will be to blame when it happens.

    This has been Obama’s must win war since he started campaigning – this is one issue he can’t blame on Bush, try as he might.

    in_awe (a55176)

  13. Obama instantly rebukes Mccain, saying he takes this more urgently than ANYONE (which is hysterical… there is someone in Afghanistan who saw his buddy get killed today, and there will be another tomorrow… these guys take it more urgently). Obama instantly rebukes his commander too.

    Obama may take months to make a basic decision about this war, but he instantly takes action if his ego is questioned. The only action he takes is to blindly assert superiority, but it’s instant.

    Intrade says Obama has 2/3rd likelihood of being reelected. I find that preposterous. Surely Obama realizes that he’s losing our faith. If he wants to cut and run… just do it already. If he wants to command a war… do that already.

    Dustin (bb61e3)

  14. What if he’s using this troop reinforcement as a negotiating point with Iran or Russia?

    Dustin (bb61e3)

  15. If Obama does not choose to either send the troops McChrystal asked for, or withdraw from Afghanistan, I think the general will retire. The middle course is what Johnson did in Vietnam and it ended with the worst of all worlds. I think McChrystal knows that and does not want to be responsible for those casualties that will be futile.

    Afghanistan was never as viable a situation as Iraq was. Basically, Pashtunistan is half of Afghanistan and half of Pakistan. I don’t see how you separate them. Iraq and Iran speak different languages.

    Mike K (2cf494)

  16. He’s voting “Present” again. What a putz!

    J. Raymond Wright (d83ab3)

  17. A “nuanced range of options”? IOW, how can I surrender and make it look like victory.

    I think he will follow the general’s advice and increase troop levels, thus allowing blue Dems to oppose him and save their seats in 2010.

    Patricia (c95a48)

  18. “The ‘fail slower’ option.”
    Rather than the fail faster one.

    That’s the problem.
    Of course you’ll blame Obama for that too. But this one was run by a Republican first, and run badly, then ignored while Iraq was the “new thing” and now we’re stuck.

    We had a chance to make a popular victory with the support of the Afghani people. We blew it. The ex-king was the popular leader, but we installed Karzai, and now he’s the Obama’s Nguyen van Thieu. And you want to bomb the country to save it.
    All we’re doing is making our enemies more popular. Time to get out and rethink.

    Obama’s too passive, but blind action is not the answer.

    bored again (cac82b)

  19. Remember, Biden told us inaction is action.

    JD (a047b4)

  20. “Time to get out and rethink”

    How did that work out for the Vietnamese and Cambodians three decades ago? Of all the countries that Obama has apologized to, is it even possible that the two countries we most royally screwed in the last thirty years are not on the list? But against all odds I’m betting it’s true.

    Lefties are great at leaving our temporary friends to the tender mercies of the evil. Though to be fair, you can’t keep all the balls in the air: waterboarding, listening in on foreign conversations without a warrant, preventing the slaughter of millions. Better to go butter fingers on the last one and not the first two. Right?

    EBJ (2fd7f7)

  21. “How did that work out for the Vietnamese and Cambodians”

    North Vietnam won, with us or without us. And Cambodia was surviving until our bombing resulted in the instability that resulted in the Khmer Rouge victory. They had been minor players up to that point. Our support for the overthrow of Sihanouk was not a good idea. The rode a backlash into power, and it took an invasion by the communist vietnamese to drive Khmer Rouge out, after which we supported them against Vietnam.
    The Vietnam War ( the Vietnamese “the American War”) was a disaster for all concerned. We began by supporting the French (and why were the French there?) and ended up supporting the Khmer Rouge.

    bored again (cac82b)

  22. And Vietnam is now full of American factories (and underpaid workers). Imagine how much faster that would’ve happened if we’d just ignored the original French requests?
    The war slowed down the progress of capitalism by decades.

    bored again (cac82b)

  23. Actually, McChrystal did say some things in his speech in London last week that gave me cause for concern.

    He mentioned how complicated he was finding the politics in Afghanistan. If you go from one valley to the next things change completely.

    I could have told him that!

    He also mentioned that as a result you may go to a village with the best of intentions, and attempt to build a well. And you find out that due to local politics you’re seen as taking sides for a faction against another.

    So he noted in London that you may only intend to give them water, and they take it completely the wrong way.

    It seems to me that if you didn’t get that lesson early in life, about roads, hell, and good intentions, you should have learned if you were in uniform during our excursion in Somalia. Where a bunch of people had a whole different way of looking at our attempt to give them food. Not too differently than the Afghans can look at a well.

    I don’t mean to say I think McChrystal is stupid. I’m surprised how he’s learning just now things he should have known. He’s got enough to learn.

    What I see is evidence of a disease that I found inside the beltway, and apparently runs rampant in Cook County, Ill, San Francisco, NY, etc.

    That our intentions are what counts.

    To the point where they blind themselves to the effects of what they’re doing, or even that anyone can legitimately look at things differently than they do. They operate in a complete vacuum, and everybody in the echo chamber reinforces their point of view.

    It wasn’t just Somalia. The effects of our Iraq policy, which includes the first WTC attacks, the Khobar tower bombings, the attack on our east African embassies, the Cole, and finally 9-11, where the result of willful blindness to any evidence that conflicted with our leaders’ preconceived world view.

    It was a festering sore for 12 years. We should by now have learned not to drag things out. Unfortunately, our self-anointed elites are thoroughly convinced that dragging things out represents smart policy.

    At least McChrystal is demonstrating he can learn. But he works for people who can’t and won’t, because their outsized egos tell them they have all the insight and wisdom they need.

    McChrystal will learn. But his bosses will continue dealing with the world how they believe it ought to be. Not as it is, because they can’t conceive there could possibly be a difference between the two.

    It’s bad enough we keep switching commanders and strategies. One of our mistakes in Vietnam was that we didn’t fight a 10 year war. We fought 10 one year wars, over and over. By the time people figured out how to be effective they were rotated out.

    When Obama makes his ultimate decision on Afghanistan, negotiates with Iran and North Korea, he’s going to be directed by what Sarkozy correctly saw was naivete and arrogance. But which Obama is firmly convinced is his towering genius and healing power of his very being.

    It sure worked well in Copenhagen, didn’t it?

    And when it doesn’t work he’s going to be more and more convinced its because right wingers aren’t cheering him on sufficiently, Dick Cheney “wished” for an attack, there’s too much talk and foot-dragging in Congress and he’s just not going to tolerate the legislative process, and the media is encouraging people to be less than duly civil to him.

    It can’t be him. And it can’t be his policies. After all, he “is my brother’s keeper,” and has nothing but the purest intentions.

    Steve (bb9090)

  24. Steve, do you really think McChrystal didn’t already know all that?

    He is explaining a complicated problem without looking arrogant.

    It’s just a nearly impossible task to win that war without the white house even willing to discuss the war. Only 18 months ago, a lot of pundits thought the war was basically over.

    It’s not about McChrystal learning… it’s about other people listening to him, and he has to start with the basics. I can only imagine how frustrating it must be to debate this stuff with Joe Biden or Barack Obama.

    Dustin (bb61e3)

  25. Geez. He’s trying to go LBJ’s route with Vietnam. That WILL give the worst results with the most casualties. What a maroon.

    “dispense with the straw man argument that this is about either doubling down or leaving Afghanistan”

    As stated, that qualifies as a false dilemma, i.e., no middle ground.

    But as Patterico says, if that’s really the choice (I think that it is), it’s true.

    Jim C. (b33a68)

  26. “North Vietnam won, with us or without us”

    Bullshit. NV won when we removed our troop support and then monetary support. SV lost because of our removal of support. We dropped out, China stayed. Pretty simple.

    “And Cambodia was surviving until our bombing resulted in the instability that resulted in the Khmer Rouge victory”

    Jeebus. I could have sworn the killing fields were filled with people killed by Vienamese weaponry. Are you really saying the actual weapons used by the Khmer were not important in their overthrow of the Cambodian government?

    I’ve read this leftie CW before and it makes no sense, except as a way to keep ‘give peace a chance’ alive. It seems to me that the left only wants to count the consequences of war only when we enter. The decision to not enter, hello Rwanda, has moral consequences, as does our retreat from Vietnam. But the left has to deny these impacts – denying their very existence – so they can continue their cartoonish depcition of war i.e. the only good war is no war.

    EBJ (2fd7f7)

  27. EBJ – My Vietnamese in-laws are always amazed when I show them comments like bored again’s. Having lived through it, unlike many of their family, their experience does not match up with bored’s narrative.

    JD (0a26e4)

  28. JD- Neither does the experience of a friend who was on the last plane from Saigon that got off of the ground.

    nuance (nuanced)- to give an answer that is essentially noncommittal BS that is delivered in a way that implies those who don’t agree are the ones who are stupid. For example, “The public did not appreciate the nuanced styling of the Emperor’s new clothes.”

    MD in Philly (d4f9fa)

  29. EBJ, read a little history. On the overthrow of Sihanouk, on the rise of The Khmer Rouge, on Thieu’s government and army, anything.

    “Lefties are great at leaving our temporary friends to the tender mercies of the evil.”
    Salvadoran death squads? Saudi executioners? The Shah’s secret police?

    bored again (cac82b)

  30. MD – Better Half and her family were in the group that was airlifted from the roof of the American embassy on the last day.

    JD (c45fdb)

  31. Steve, do you really think McChrystal didn’t already know all that?

    He is explaining a complicated problem without looking arrogant.

    You don’t risk coming off as arrogant if you respect an knowledgeable audience’s familiarity with the subject. Not doing runs the risk of insulting your audience’s intelligence.

    He was speaking at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, not at a high school graduation.

    There was a fairly common reaction of “Is he just learning this, or does he actually think we don’t know this already?”

    The reaction would probably be the same if the new CEO at IBM, brought in to solve some corporate problems, was going to speak to his engineers about his strategy to turn the company around. And began by thinking he needed to explain that the company’s products are really complicated, use electricity, lots of parts that sometimes they make in house and sometimes they buy, and that they require something called “software.” And then went on to explain what software was.

    And his address about “winning the war of perceptions” was undermined by first giving the impression to his audience he didn’t understand the society.

    I’m sure explaining Afghanistan on a grade-school level is appropriate at the White House, certainly necessary, and still probably goes over their heads.

    But it wasn’t appropriate at the IISS, and it really did raise some questions in the minds of his audience about the plan he’s come up with.

    I respect him, don’t get me wrong. I hear he’s an outstanding officer and leader.

    The fact the he did explain things like this may not mean he’s just learning. It’s hard to understand why he thinks an audience at a global institute that deals with complicated security issues as its bread and butter needs to have it explained, though.

    The only explanation I can think of is that he frequently does have to explain things like this to people you’d think would know better.

    It would be comforting if I could convince myself that the people running the show didn’t have to have Afghanistan explained in these terms. But I can’t.

    He’s going to have to sell this plan, and the people he’s selling it to apparently need to be told that Afghanistan is a complicated place, that the local politics are difficult, and that its full of people who don’t always think the same way we do.

    And that’s a frightening prospect.

    Steve (bb9090)

  32. If you’re right, then I’m just plain flabbergasted. I just can’t see it that way. This man has fought in many wars, and I find those elements to be utterly obvious.

    Oh well.

    Dustin (bb61e3)

  33. Cue ABBA, The Winner Takes It All.

    htom (412a17)

  34. If you’re right, then I’m just plain flabbergasted. I just can’t see it that way. This man has fought in many wars, and I find those elements to be utterly obvious.

    Oh well.

    Comment by Dustin — 10/7/2009 @ 3:19 pm

    Yeah, I’m saying it’s entirely likely that he may find them obvious, too. But that he’s constantly called on to explain them.

    And as a result he does so out of habit, even at the IISS where the audience knew they were obvious.

    And not just in Washington where apparently these things aren’t obvious and could explain why he has to now talk his CinC out of just splitting the difference between his plan and Joe Biden, God Bless ‘im, and his unerring instincts.

    Steve (bb9090)

  35. President Obama is closer to the Buffoon than to the General.
    The Biden Doctrine has a nice ring and I look forward to Charlie Gibson zinging Sarah Palin with questions about it in 2012.

    Some former SF guy over at Blackfive has called Biden Doctrine the “magic ninja” strategy which would be apt.

    Anyway, on Vietnam and Cambodia, you can read all kinds of books and articles on the subject that are chock full of notations, references.
    Bullshit in. Bullshit out.
    The US had no reason to bomb Cambodia if the North Vietnamese were not violating Cambodian sovereign territory in a clear violation of international law.
    Blaming the Khmer Rouge on the US takes a degree of self loathing that is usually found in academics like the Bill Ayers crowd. How those lying fools got a seat at the White House table is troubling….

    SteveG (97b6b9)

  36. Steve and Dustin,

    McChrystal may feel constrained in what he can say in public so perhaps he kept it simple to avoid sensitive subjects.

    DRJ (7fbae6)

  37. McChrystal may feel constrained in what he can say in public so perhaps he kept it simple to avoid sensitive subjects.

    Comment by DRJ — 10/7/2009 @ 10:03 pm

    I’m sure he does feel constrained. In fact he is constrained. Not that there’s any merit to the idea he was insubordinate. Or that those who are making the argument have any credibility. Not after lionizing Shinseki.

    But he was speaking at the London institute as the Commander of ISAF as well as the commander of US forces in Afghanistan. At an event attended primarily by an audience from one of our closest NATO allies.

    His security assessment should be the most important factor in any change in strategy. It won’t just be a US plan, it’s a plan for ISAF. It’s important to inspire confidence among NATO members as well, and he said a few things that worked against him when it came to that.

    McChrystal says in his assessment that the need to respect the complexity of the operational environment was central to his analysis. His audience expected him to demonstrate a firm grasp of those complexities. Some of the things he said were counterproductive in that effort. I wouldn’t have said them if I were making this pitch to NATO about Afghanistan. And it is a sales job McChrystal finds himself thrust into.

    But I don’t think I was fair to him in my first post, in leaning so strongly toward the possibility that they reflect his own naivete.

    I’m leaning more strongly toward the probability that they reflect more a frustration in overcoming the naive ideology of others.

    Which will be amply demonstrated if Obama does split the difference between listening to McChrystal’s recommendation or following Biden’s instincts.

    If they do, it won’t be because than they have any better information than McChrystal provides them. If they do, it will simply be because they reject it because they prefer to see things differently.

    This tracks with what is being reported by some of Obama’s economic advisers. They’re simply not listening to them.

    They haven’t been listening to McChrystal, either. It looks to me that he’s getting frustrated by the foot dragging while his troops are in combat.

    I’ve only read through his redacted Commander’s assessment once. So I’m still trying to digest it. But it is forceful about the need to appreciate the time factor and the need to see the conflict for what it is and not for what some may prefer to see it as.

    I hear nothing but good things about him. So as I said earlier I know he’s a very bright man. Not a slow learner. So I was just puzzled by some of the things he said in London.

    But it occurs to me he’s probably very frustrated at having to deal with what appear to him to be some slow learners who won’t face simple facts. Who say they are committed to a mission and a course of action, and then don’t listen to the man they told to implement their plan. And are obviously looking for some basis to dilute the influence of his assessment if not ignore it outright.

    Steve (2ec52c)

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