When I first starting writing about the proposed escalation in Afghanistan, I thought that General McChrystal's request would certainly be approved. And will almost certainly still be the outcome. The two options that seem to be in play are sending 40,000 soldiers and marines or some unspecified smaller amount. However, President Obama has dragged the decision out, meeting five times with a war council, and allowed Vice President Biden to voice some criticism of escalating the war in public, even if only through "leaks."
It looks like Obama is trying to at least act out an honest debate about what our goals and strategy should be in Afghanistan. While that debate isn't transparent and it has excluded the large number of voices calling for at a minimum a sustainable policy in Afghanistan, I still count this as a small blessing. For one thing, Obama has signaled to the military - mostly General Petraeus - that policy decisions will take place in Washington. No more weekly video links so the President can bond with the generals on the ground. No more blank checks for what ever those generals want.
For another, it is a small opening to slow down our military machine from within. Iraq is getting a withdrawal because its government demanded it.* No such request will come from the government in Afghanistan. The regime's survival depends on the presence of American forces. The war will be escalated, but its internal momentum will be slowed. The next debate will very likely include the option to draw down forces. That's a small consolation for those who will die or suffer - American, NATO and Afghan - because of the current decision, but is nonetheless important for the longer effort to end the war.
I've been collecting links for this post since I wrote the last one, but I'll only include a few before the jump. I'll continue to work on the others mainly for a record of the current debate.
Glenn Greewald, "Democrats and Afghanistan: what's at stake" Salon.com, October 13. As usual, he includes many good links to other sources.
Jeff Zeleny, "Deliberating on Afghanistan, in Plain Sight" New York Times, October 15.
* Note that Obama has not kept his campaign promise to withdraw a brigade a month from Iraq.
Steve Coll, "Legitimacy and the Afghan Army" Think Tank, The New Yorker, September 24.
Rajiv Chandrasekaran, "Go All-In, Or Fold" Washington Post, September 27.
Steve Coll, "Ink Spots" Think Tank, The New Yorker, September 28.
George Packer, "The Last Mission - Richard Holbrooke and the war in Afghanistan" The New Yorker, September 28.
Steve Coll, "Gorbachev Was Right" Think Tank, The New Yorker, September 29.
Peter Baker, "From McChrystal's Mouth to Obama's Ear" New York Times, September 30.
Graphic, "Troop Levels in Afghanistan Since 2001" New York Times, October 1.
Marc Lynch, "What's wrong with muddling through in Afghanistan?" ForeignPolicy.com, October 1.
John F. Burns, "McChrystal Rejects Scaling Down Afghan Military Aims" New York Times, October 2.
Bruce Ackerman, "A General's Public Pressure" Washington Post, October 3.
David Sirota, "Who are 'the deciders'?" Salon.com, October 3.
Various Contributors, "10 Steps to Victory in Afghanistan" New York Times, October 4.
Alex Spillius, "White House angry at General Stanley McChrystal speech on Afghanistan" Telegraph (London), October 5.
Albert R. Hunt, "A Voice Worth Heeding on Afghanistan" New York Times, October 5.
Patrick J. Buchanan, "The Generals' War" syndicated column, October 5.
Walter Pincus, "Critics Don't See the Nuance in McChrystal's Comments on War" Washington Post, October 6.
Marc Lynch, "AfPak Debate Day" ForeignPolicy.com, October 6.
Glenn Greewald, "The suffocatingly narrow Afghanistan 'debate'" Salon.com, October 7.
George Packer, "What Obama and the Generals Are Reading" Interesting Times, The New Yorker, October 8.
Senators Carl Levin and Lindsey Graham, Meet the Press transcript, October 11.
Sabrina Tavernise and Abdul Waheed Wafa, "U.N Official Acknowledges 'Widespread Fraud' in Afghan Vote" New York Times, October 12.
George Packer, "Why Rufus Phillips Matters" Interesting Times, The New Yorker, October 12.
Mark Landler and Thom Shanker, "Clinton and Gates Join Forces in Debate on Afghanistan Buildup" New York Times, October 13.
William Astore, "Norman Mailer for secretary of defense" Salon.com, October 13.
Peter Baker, "Biden No Longer a Lone Voice on Afghanistan" New York Times, October 14.