Sen. Christopher “Kit” Bond of Missouri, the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, tells NRO that if President Obama continues to stall on Afghanistan, then “even the right strategy will fail.” President Obama, says Bond, should “suck it up and support General McChrystal” and “provide him with the resources that we need in Afghanistan. It’s clear that the White House needs a sense of urgency. Time is not on our side.”
“We need more troops,” says Bond. “If President Obama has other ideas on the effectiveness of civilian efforts, we can continue to adjust our civilian strategy. Without a troop-level adjustment, however, we won’t have the opportunity to use ‘smart power,’ a combination of military, diplomatic, economic, educational, and political initiatives.”
“The political winds around the president may be a bit hard right now, with health care and other domestic concerns,” says Bond. “But look at what General McChrystal says. If we don’t have a full-blown counterinsurgency strategy, it will fail.” If President Obama decides instead to introduce a phased withdrawal of American troops, Bond says that he should be prepared for the consequences. “You can leave, sure. Then the Taliban will come back over the mountains from Pakistan. Al-Qaeda will be back, developing another launching pad for terror. That’s the option.”
Bond says that President Obama needs to realize that Afghanistan is, in many ways, the keystone to the surrounding region. A year ago, soon after Obama was elected, Bond sent the president-elect a memo outlining why the United States needed a comprehensive strategy for the Afghanistan–Pakistan region. “It was a twelve-page memorandum that essentially said that we need 40,000 more troops,” says Bond. “It looked at the region as a whole, and also served as a direct message to the leaders of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, to get everyone on the same page.”
By spring 2009, Bond says he was pleased with Obama’s response to the memo and the president’s articulation of American strategy in Afghanistan. “When the president made a speech in March detailing his commitment, I thought that was very good. Here, I thought, he had developed a strategy and picked a top-notch general in Stanley McChrystal to go there and develop the plan,” says Bond.
“Then, a few months later, McChrystal’s report was leaked,” Bond continues. “I would have supposed that the commander-in-chief, once he got that, would move quickly when his commander on the ground in Afghanistan says that the situation is deteriorating every day. I know I spent a long Saturday afternoon going through that strategy. Although it did not outline the civilian side of things – and there need to be civilian efforts – it was clear that the Taliban is gaining momentum. The president didn’t look at it for a while. I was stunned to hear that under questioning, McChrystal said he had only spoken with the president once in 70 days.”
“What we’re hearing from the White House,” says Bond, “is this: ‘Oh, well, Afghanistan won’t fall in the next twelve months. There’s no rush.’ This position is worrisome. Every day we delay, the Democrats express their frustration. On the other side, every month we delay, our troops grow dispirited, as do the people in Afghanistan whose hearts and minds we’re trying to win.”
And those hearts and minds are still winnable, says Bond. “In Afghanistan, all politics is local. Every different valley has its own governing structure and viewpoints.” Concerns about the current Afghan national government, he adds, are a “total red herring.”
“Nobody says that it’s a perfect government,” says Bond. “Sure, there are a lot of questions. But President Karzai is working with it. We need to work with the villages and the shuras that govern them, too. Its imperfection does not mean that we should abandon it.”
“The Afghan people are wondering if we’re going to just walk away and leave. We’re clearly not showing the resolve in Washington that is necessary for the people on the ground to believe in us,” says Bond. “The Taliban have only become emboldened. They think, ‘We’re going to win this prize.’ Unless we have a full-blown counterinsurgency strategy, with the 40,000 more troops we need, we’ll continue to lose ground.”
It’s not just Bond who is pushing President Obama to increase troop levels. British prime minister Gordon Brown told the House of Commons on Wednesday that he would send another 500 troops to Afghanistan. “It’s nice to see someone making a step forward,” says Bond. “God bless Great Britain, our partner, who is willing to make a commitment when we can’t make up our minds. Other allies are waiting for the president to make a decision. If the U.S. won’t get serious, they won’t join.”
President Obama, says Bond, should also not listen too closely to the advice of Vice President Joe Biden, who disagrees with McChrystal’s recommendations. “If President Obama didn’t know it before, he will soon find out that Amtrak instituted the quiet car because of Joe Biden,” laughs Bond. “Biden was 100 percent wrong on Iraq, with his idea for dividing the country into three parts, separating the Kurds, Sunnis, and Shia.”
“I hope the president will listen to Secretary Gates, the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mullen, General Petraeus, and his general on-the-ground, General McChrystal,” says Bond. “He either listens to military strategists or he listens to political advisers and left-wing members of Congress.”
“President Obama, it’s time for you to make the case for staying with our strategy to the American people,” says Bond. Whether President Obama listens is another matter.