After returning from his minor flop of a trip to Asia, President Obama has convened yet another strategy meeting on Afghanistan. Of course, part of the politics of this empty trip seems to have been to delay supporting the troops again. Perhaps Rham Emannuel counseled that sending reinforcements now would undermine Democratic nerve on the health care bill. Who knows? One thing we do know is that the Chinese pulling the plug on Obama's nationwide town hall was an embarrassment plain and simple. And what trip would be complete without a bow or two. The bow to the Japanese emperor proves one thing is improving in the Obama Administration. The presidents' bowing is getting much better. He really has the bend down pat. Though in the interest of variety, next time the president might curtsy, just to show he's versed in other ways of showing submission before a king or dictator.
Moving from the vapid Asia trip onto an issue the President should have addressed four months ago, Afghanistan continues to fester. Honest Americans can debate this war in all of its aspects, but the Taliban are still there, Pakistan is still tottering and Bin Laden is still on the lam. From this point of view, the question is not whether, but how many troops should go. Concurrently, the President should seriously enlarge the Army. Obama promised to do so already, but there is scant evidence he is following through on this pledge. More troops are needed in Afghanistan. A larger Army is needed so that troops don't have to spread thin throughout the world and redeployed over and over again in combat theaters. No question these are hard decisions. However, when American troops need reinforcements, the job of the President is to call for those troops, not sightsee on the great Wall of China. The mixed up priorities of this novice executive had better straighten out and fast.
Apart from the blundering manner in which this decision is being reached, the leaked number seems completely inadequate. Multiple news reports place the number of troops being committed in the 30,000 to 40,000 range. While nobody here is a general, we can draw some basic conclusions. Land wars in Asia are expensive in every way. Going in with few troops or a light footprint is a recipe for losing, as Iraq certainly proved. Afghanistan is much larger that Iraq, much more mountainous and has almost no government outside of Kabul. Iraq required 150,000 troops. Afghanistan looks like it needs 250,000 to 300,000 troops, allies included. If Obama looks to go with a lighter surge than requested, say around 40,000, he'll still be about 150,000 short. Our NATO allies perhaps could bump up to 50,000, but to expect more than 20,000 or 30,000 capable Afghani troops seems a stretch, at least for a year or two. Do the math. We're still short 75,000 to 100,000 troops. With highly porous borders with Pakistan and Iran, even 300,000 may be too small a force.
Obviously, we, and even the generals, can only make educated guesses as to the size of the force truly needed. We can however have an approach that seeks total victory. What would comprise total victory? The first criteria would be a stable democratic central government. Next would be secure control of the border and interior of the country. Vanquishing the Taliban and al Qaeda. would be necessary for victory as well. At this stage, all these pose serious challenges, but first secure control of the country must be established before any democratic or governmental progress can occur. While General McCrystal seems to have an idea as to what to do on the ground, the U.S. government needs an overall strategy. As it happens there is one that might give some insight and direction to a policy that seems confused.
Here's one. The strategy is called overwhelming force. Who, you ask, is credited with such an idea? The man would be Obama supporter, Colin Powell. Overwhelming force or the Powell Doctrine at war might be summarized as taking the size of the force you think you need, then double or better triple it. This constitutes overwhelming force. This is our modern version of the Von Clausewitz idea of using more force than your enemy. However, this is not some lab theory. The Powell Doctrine was a large part of the United States winning the first Gulf War. The surge in Iraq was another success in a very similar vein. In this case, that means Obama should commit at least 80,000 to 120,000 troops to overwhelm the enemy. This provides the Karzai regime time and security to plug the holes in the leaky Afghan nation state. Since Colin Powell publicly endorsed Barack Obama during the campaign, he should be happy fill in this rather uncertain, shallow president on the merits of such a strategy.
As said before, this is a President who promised us a larger army. Now that we need it, we've started to hear unnamed officials say the military can't provide more than 30,000 additional troops at this time. This is war. The president should not permit lolly gagging in logistics or anywhere else. This piecemeal approach is what doomed us in Vietnam and almost lost Iraq. We need a heavy footprint or none at all. It does little good to let understrength forces get shot at so we can crow at some news conference we are doing something. Obama needs to embrace the Powell Doctrine of overwhelming force, so we can win this war in the shortest time possible and go home. Overwhelming force is the surest, quickest route to victory, if that is actually our goal.