Presidential Prerogative: Defining “Victory” in Afghanistan Anyway He Wants!

The day before Leon Panetta’s confirmation hearing as Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ successor, President Barack Obama said during a television interview that his administration has won a “big chunk of strategic objectives” in Afghanistan.  He then proceeded to say, “By us killing Osama Bin Laden, getting al Qaeda back on its heels, stabilizing much of the country in Afghanistan so that the Taliban can’t take it over…it’s now time for us to recognize that we’ve accomplished a big chunk of our mission and that it’s time for Afghans to take more responsibility.”  When you are president, you have the national visibility to define success the way you want. Whether people would believe you or not is an entirely different story.

Continue reading “Presidential Prerogative: Defining “Victory” in Afghanistan Anyway He Wants!”

Avoiding the ‘Graveyard of Empire’ Syndrome’

The administration of President Barack Obama is near fixated about not getting stuck in Afghanistan–the well-known “graveyard of empires.” That may be one reason why he is so persistent about not getting involved in the long-term process of nation-building, which is also full of too many hidden landmines. That is why he is so persistent about telling all his advisors, “I’m not ‘nation-building’ in Afghanistan.” How else would he win in Afghanistan?

A cursory description of the Obama administration handling of the war in Afghanistan gives one a vivid description of how driven President Obama really is about getting out of Afghanistan. In a way that is refreshing when one recalls how obsessive George W. Bush was about invading–that is getting embroiled in–Iraq. But the stark contrast between the passions of these two presidents leads to the same outcome: America’s continued involvement in two very dangerous places, except prospects of winning in Afghanistan appear dim at best. Continue reading “Avoiding the ‘Graveyard of Empire’ Syndrome’”

The Commonalities Between Obama and Bush

In an insightful OpEd, “What Eisenhower Could Teach Obama,” Melvin Goodman, an ex-CIA functionary and a former Professor at the National War College, pointed out the difficulty of current presidents in dealing with the military, because most presidents come to office with no background or knowledge about the U.S. military.  He compared the almost encyclopedic knowledge about the military that President Dwight D. (Ike) Eisenhower brought to the office – because he himself was a professional soldier – with a number of recent presidents, especially President Barack Obama, who has no knowledge of the military culture and the military frame of mind.  In his farewell address to the nation, Ike rightly warned the nation of the dangers of allowing a military-industrial- complex (MIC) to take the control of the United States.    

Continue reading “The Commonalities Between Obama and Bush”

Replacing the Current AfPak Strategy with a New One

With the firing of General Stanley McChrystal, President Barack Obama appears to be writing his own edition of “lessons in disaster,” a book of the same title that he so publicly read and supposedly drew lessons from before committing 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. One wonders whether he knows it, but Afghanistan is increasingly looking like a disastrous place for his administration as long as he sticks to the current AfPak strategy.

Continue reading “Replacing the Current AfPak Strategy with a New One”

The Kamikaze Act of a Special Forces Warrior

The “runaway” General, Stanley McChrystal, was fired today by President Barack Obama. The general committed a number of major faux pas. First, he granted a candid interview to a tabloid magazine, Rolling Stone, seemingly without establishing strict ground rules about what can or cannot be reported. Second, his key aides adopted trashy language to disparage Vice President Joe Biden and James Jones, Obama’s National Security Advisor, a retired Marine Corps four-star general and former SACEUR commander. Third, McChrystal’s low regard, if not contempt, for Obama also came through loud and clear in that interview.

Continue reading “The Kamikaze Act of a Special Forces Warrior”

Political Legitimacy: Key to Victory in Afghanistan

As new idiosyncrasies of the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan are becoming pronounced, one wonders how many of them are pushing it toward a potential disaster, which President Barack Obama is as determined to avoid as his three predecessors – Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, and George W. Bush – did in Vietnam and Iraq, respectively.

Every new president’s approach to major unresolved issues is entirely different from those of his immediate predecessor, simply because the predecessor’s approach is regarded as inept or even wrong-headed. So, the successor proceeds to ‘reinvent the wheel’ on those issues by approaching it entirely differently. Since Barack Obama entered office criticizing Bush’s involvement in and his handling of the Iraq war, his own war – the one in Afghanistan – was going to have his ‘superior’ mark on it.

Continue reading “Political Legitimacy: Key to Victory in Afghanistan”

The Topsy-Turvy Nature of South Asian Power Games

The strategic debates in Washington on the fortunes of Pakistan are undergoing a palpable degree of modification. The Obama administration has initiated a strategic dialogue. There is no reason for anyone to think that Pakistan will emerge as a strategic partner of India anytime soon; however, the fact that the Obama administration has decided to conduct such a dialogue speaks volumes about its earnest commitment to pragmatism. That might be viewed as bad news in India, largely because one of the many egregious rules of South Asia is the high relevance of the zero-sum game between India and Pakistan involving the United States.

Continue reading “The Topsy-Turvy Nature of South Asian Power Games”

Robert Gates: Mr. Indispensable

The Obama administration is entering a crucial phase of its existence. President Barack Obama is about to determine his new strategy governing the Afghan war. He has a lot at stake because wars have a bizarre way of making heroes and villains out of presidents and prime ministers.

Continue reading “Robert Gates: Mr. Indispensable”

A New Strategy or Following Your Own Advice

As President Barack H. Obama is edging toward making up his mind about accepting, partially accepting, or not accepting General Stanley McChrystal’s advice to insert more troops in Afghanistan, I hear an abundance of metaphors flying.  One metaphor was used by the candidate Obama himself during the presidential campaign, when he described starting the war in Iraq to driving a bus into ditch.  That metaphor is being reprinted (recently by the New York Times).  Rory Stewart, a Professor at Harvard and an opponent of the option of increasing the troops, is using the metaphor “driving off a cliff.”  Steven Biddle, a Fellow at CFR, calls it “a war that is worth waging, but only barely.” John Nagle, who built his reputation by being one of General David Petraeus’ assistants, and a person whose doctoral dissertation was on counterinsurgency (and a very good read), calls the war in Afghanistan “a better war.”  The debate within the Principals Committee in the White House is reported to be waging along the lines of COIN or counterterrorism.

Continue reading “A New Strategy or Following Your Own Advice”

The Vietnam Syndrome is Dead–Long Live…

As the Obama administration ponders America’s warfighting strategy for Afghanistan, there are muted comparisons between the current U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and its involvement in South Vietnam in the 1960s. Given that the United States was defeated in South Vietnam, such comparison serves as an added burden for the mandarins of America’s national security strategy, both in the White House and the Pentagon.
Continue reading “The Vietnam Syndrome is Dead–Long Live…”