Obama and Afghanistan: An Update

There are several updates to the key points I outlined in last week’s post about President Obama’s handling of the Afghan war.

The first concerns the success of the surge of 30,000 extra troops that Mr. Obama announced in December 2009, most of which were deployed in southern Afghanistan.  As I noted, one of the significant nuggets in Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s informative but depressing new book about U.S. policy in Afghanistan is that many in the White House privately concede that the troop buildup has been a failure.  An article in the New York Times yesterday reports the same thing, quoting a senior administration official as saying:

When you look at the map in two years, the Taliban are going to be controlling big, rural swaths of the south.  And that’s something no one wants to talk about very much.

Underscoring this point, the Times goes on to say:

A senior military official said that before the troop increase there were roughly 2,000 insurgents moving regularly across the mountainous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. And after the increase was over, he said, there are still about 2,000. Continue reading

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How Well Has Mr. Obama Waged His “War of Necessity”?

There are major dents in the president’s foreign policy claims

A spate of new books offers critical appraisals of President Obama’s stewardship of national affairs.  Bob Woodward’s latest volume, The Price of Politics¸ draws an unflattering portrait of his management of fiscal policy, echoing themes in Ron Suskind’s Confidence Men.  On foreign policy, Ahmed Rashid’s Pakistan on the Brink and Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s Little America: The War Within The War For Afghanistan contain stark indictments of the president’s conduct of the conflict he once trumpeted as a “war of necessity” but about which he rarely talks anymore.  Their broad charges on the AfPak front parallel the negative judgment proffered by Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor in End Game, their new book on the administration’s handling of the Iraq war.  The overall effect is to put significant dents in Mr. Obama’s claims about his foreign policy record.

A common theme in these volumes is how the president’s characterizations of his own leadership skills diverge widely from his administration’s actual performance.  A man who advertised himself as “No Drama Obama” in reality, according to these authors, presides over an administration pulsing with internecine conflict and policy disarray.  A chief executive who bills himself as immersed in policy detail has instead been content to allow important matters to drift and lacks follow-up.  And a president who takes pride in his public communication skills has failed to cultivate crucial personal ties with other leaders, either on Capitol Hill or around the world.

Rashid, a widely-respected Pakistani journalist, and Chandrasekaran, an associate editor at the Washington Post who earlier wrote a critical assessment of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, weave these themes together to craft compelling indictments of Mr. Obama’s approach toward Afghanistan.*  Both agree that the president failed to produce a comprehensive strategy for the conflict he once termed as “the war we have to win.  We do not have an option.” Continue reading