November 10, 2009
A COIN Flip
Yesterday, rumor swept the dextrosphere that President Barack H. Obama was prepared to accept the recommendation of Gen. Stanley McChrystal; the president, quoth the Great Mentioner, would send 40,000 troops to Afghanistan.
And who could doubt the gossip? After all, it came from CBS, bastion of unbiased and utterly credible journalism at the highest standards of integrity. Blogs cheered; Democrats were dismayed. Hugh Hewitt was overjoyed, saying he would cheer the president when he did so.
Thus spake the net that Uncle Walt and Auntie Dan built:
Tonight, after months of conferences with top advisors, President Obama has settled on a new strategy for Afghanistan. CBS News correspondent David Martin reports that the president will send a lot more troops and plans to keep a large force there, long term.
The president still has more meetings scheduled on Afghanistan, but informed sources tell CBS News he intends to give Gen. Stanley McChrystal most, if not all, the additional troops he is asking for.
McChrystal wanted 40,000 and the president has tentatively decided to send four combat brigades plus thousands more support troops. A senior officer says "that's close to what [McChrystal] asked for." All the president's military advisers have recommended sending more troops.
All right, so the rumor was true... the rumor that CBS had reported such a story, that is. As to the accuracy of the story itself, don't hold your breath. By the time I read it, it was already prefaced with the following disclaimer, direct from la Casa Blanca, italics and all:
"Reports that President Obama has made a decision about Afghanistan are absolutely false. He has not received final options for his consideration, he has not reviewed those options with his national security team, and he has not made any decisions about resources. Any reports to the contrary are completely untrue and come from uninformed sources."
But the swift denial from the Obamacle -- "Nonsense, I'm not through dithering yet!" -- was superfluous, just gilding the cake. Even before the administration rejected the foul contention that the Commander in Chief had actually made up his mind, the story was already meaningless blather -- because what McChrystal really needs is not a few extra troops but a whole new counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy... and the CBS story said nary a word about that question.
Nothing in the article so much as suggested that Obama had approved the general's request to implement a COIN strategy; without it, all the extra troops in the world wouldn't bring us an inch closer to victory. The new brigades would just create a target-rich environment for Taliban ambushes and al-Qaeda suicide attacks.
Let's look back to 2007; what won the Iraq war? Not merely deploying five more brigades of infantry and retaining 4,000 Marines who were to have been rotated out; what finally broke the insurgency was a change of strategy: protecting the civilian population, going on joint patrols with Iraqi militias, embedding American military personnel within Iraqi units, loosening the rules of engagement, encouraging the "salvation councils" that acted as a national front against the terrorists, and all the other elements of classical COIN.
After designing the strategy, Gen. David Petraeus calculated the total number of troops he would need, and that came to about 25,000 more than he had: Hence the so-called "surge" of troops.
But all that the leftstream media ever comprehended was "Bush is sending more soldiers" (or alternatively, "Bush is escalating the war, just like in Vietnam!") Thus, the press and the Democrats, to the extent they're not conterminous, began to use the term "surge," implying that the sole change involved was a few more warm bodies. This led to any number of liberals hooting that you can't win just by lobbing more soldiers at it.
Today, the same error infests the coverage of the McChrystal report: Newspapers and TV networks report that McChrystal has requested 40,000 more men, as if that were the sum total of military planning.
It may well turn out to be true that Barack Obama decides to send nearly that many to Afghanistan. But unless he likewise shifts decisively to a counterinsurgency strategy -- which is what Gen. McChrystal concluded was the only viable option -- those 40,000 men will do absolutely nothing to arrest the deterioration of our position in that country, or to lead us to victory against the Iran/al-Qaeda axis.
I'm skeptical that the One understands this point. I fear he thinks the only choices he has to make are whether to send more men, and if so, how many. Such misunderstanding leaves us in grave danger. If Obama thinks it's just a numbers game, the temptation to "split the difference" could become overwhelming: McChrystal wants 40,000, the leftist base wants none -- so let's split the difference and send 20,000! That's a fair compromise, no?
No; it's a prescription for disaster. Difference splitting may work fine in labor disputes and buying mutual funds, but half measures are a highway to defeat in warfare. We must pick one grand strategy, implement it, and stick to it until it has a chance to work. And according to our man in Kabul, the only strategy that leads to winning the war is COIN.
Alas, whether Obama gets that point is itself a coin-flip.
Hatched by Dafydd on this day, November 10, 2009, at the time of 4:08 AM
TrackBack URL for this hissing: http://biglizards.net/mt3.36/earendiltrack.cgi/4043
The following hissed in response by: Geoman
Face it - the guy doesn't have a clue.
Actually, he is trying to figure out how he doesn't piss anyone off. Unfortunately, there doesn't appear to be a ready solution at hand. Community organizing didn't really prepare him for this...
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