Excerpts of Amb. Karl Eikenberry’s November cables warning about Hamid Karzai’s unreliability as an ally and cautioning against increasing U.S. forces in Afghanistan leaked to the Times and the Post. Today the Times runs them in full. You should read them. According to the paper’s Eric Schmitt, the leaker wants “the historical record” to include the full text of the cables.
If there’s anything new here, it’s that Eikenberry dismisses as “optimistic” an apparent set of internal military charts that show a “bell curve” in U.S. troops rising and then departing — presumably the deployment patterns for an Iraq-like surge — and that Hamid Karzai’s coterie “do not want the U.S. to leave and are only too happy to see us invest further. They assume we covet their territory for a never-ending ‘war on terror’…” Eikenberry believes increasing U.S. forces in Afghanistan will only mire the country deeper in the war and act as a disincentive for Karzai to get his shit together. You can see why a civic-minded leaker wants the record to reflect that. I think I read similar cables in some book written by David Halberstam.
But the Vietnam comparisons, I think, end there, because the Obama administration did something that the Kennedy and Johnson administrations didn’t: they absorbed the critique. Look at the December speech at West Point and the McChrystal-Eikenberry hearings that followed. Eikenberry worries about being waist-deep in the big muddy and pressing on? Obama says that a transition to Afghan security responsibility — yes, an open-ended one, but a transition — begins in July 2011. Eikenberry worries that Karzai and his inner circle will treat an open-ended U.S. commitment as an excuse for intransigence? Obama says that the bulk of U.S. development and governmental support will occur outside of Kabul and focus on immediate-impact areas like agriculture and local governance. Eikenberry says that the civilian structure of the U.S. and NATO commitment to Afghanistan is disorganized in a way that leads to the inevitable militarization of policy? Obama and NATO will redress that grievance in exactly the manner Eikenberry proposed on Thursday in London. Eikenberry told Congress in December, after the West Point speech, that he supports Obama’s revised Afghanistan strategy “without equivocation.” It’s not hard to see why.
This is a season of really understandable progressive discontent with Obama on domestic issues. I’m going to stay in my lane here, but suffice it to say I share a lot of that discontent. Yet it’s moments like this when the administration really does come through. Obama, confronting a massive and complex challenge that he inherited, absorbed a dissenting position and did so in a manner that kept the counterinsurgents on board; embraced the military critique they offered; and devised a creative strategy tailored to American interests in Afghanistan and Pakistan and just those interests. This is not a middle path. It’s a synthesis. The distinction is important. Not many U.S. policymakers appreciate it, and fewer still achieve it.