In the course of a thoughtful post about Afghanistan, Matthew Yglesias expresses discomfort at the sequence of events of the plus-up of troops:
I’ve heard plausible strategic visions for Afghanistan that involve sending more troops [there]. But the administration decided to announce the increase in force-levels before announcing the results of their strategic review. That decision about the sequence of events doesn’t seem very smart to me.
I’d half-defend this. Gen. McKiernan issued his request for additional troops last year, acknowledging a shortfall in resources for the missions he was tasked with before Barack Obama’s election. The south, in particular, suffered from a troop deficit, and unsurprisingly, the insurgency had flourished there. McKiernan told a group of us reporters in October (sorry, the Windy is down right now, so I can’t get the link at the moment) that he also needed combat-support assets, like intelligence and surveillance platforms, just to basically muddle through. And if McKiernan was so blunt in public to reporters a month before a presidential election, it’s a good bet that in private communications, his hair was on fire. (I presume that was why Bush designated an Army brigade and a Marine battalion to Afghanistan in September.) So it may not be so disturbing that Obama responded to a commander’s need before the review process got underway in earnest.
But it is partially disturbing. The goals McKiernan’s efforts are supporting are unclear ones. No one in the administration or, to my knowledge, the opposition, disputes that; hence the strategy review. Committing more troops for an uncertain strategy contradicts the lessons of Iraq that Obama outlined on Friday. If the additional troops were necessary simply to stop the country from going completely pear-shaped by the summer, that’s indicative of a strategic fact that probably should compel the strategy review to scale down the goals in the region dramatically. Perhaps on occasion you do need to deploy additional troops ahead of a thorough strategic review, but that’s not something you want to do except when absolutely necessary.
Now I’m going to prognosticate about something. Last week the Afghan delegation pleaded with the Obama administration against reducing its goals for the war. But what they wanted specifically is totally commensurate with such "reductionist" aims. Foreign Minister Spanta said Afghanistan required aid for governance and development programs. Well, guess what: all these whole-of-government and counterinsurgency folks in the Obama administration are very likely to agree. None of them think that the people of Afghanistan will turn against the Taliban unless they see direct material benefits to doing so. That would likely mean supporting… governance and development programs, but as a means — think of it as a counterinsurgency strategy toward a counterterrorist aim. We wouldn’t care, in other words, about how well or wisely Kabul governs, so much as we’d care about whether its capacity to govern benefits Afghans, particularly in the south and the east, where the insurgency appears to be strongest. That still leaves the questions of how much support and for how long. But don’t be surprised if this is how the reduced-goal circle is ultimately squared.