According to media reports — and confirmed by Hill/Pentagon sources — President Obama will likely announce a substantial troop increase in Afghanistan at a prime-time press conference on Tuesday of next week (December 1).
Most insiders believe the president will embrace a version of the so-called Gates proposal, which involves U.S. troop increases between 30,000 and 35,000 (three to four infantry brigades, plus enablers and trainers), with another 5,000 to 10,000 troops coming from NATO countries. In addition to employing a counterinsurgency approach, the proposal rightly puts a heavy emphasis on training and mentoring Afghan security forces. I’m told General McChrystal supports this approach.
In short, Obama is likely to give McChrystal almost everything he needs, though his plan will replace some of the U.S. combat troops McChrystal requested with trainers and NATO forces, presumably in the hope that they can take over non-combat assignments, freeing up additional U.S. trigger-pullers. Importantly, the plan rejects the folly that is the Biden “light-footprint” approach.
This is all good news, and worthy of support. At this level, this Afghanistan surge would be larger than the Iraq surge, albeit it will take longer to insert U.S. troops into Afghanistan than into Iraq. If the president announces this approach, he should be commended.
The most interesting — and equally important — aspect to watch will be the president’s rhetoric and actions during and after his announcement. He must show a willingness to sell this approach, robustly making the case for finishing the job.
So far, unfortunately, message control has not been a hallmark of the 100-day Afghanistan decision-making process. The president’s repeated comments while in Asia about needing an “exit strategy,” as well as his “eight-year occupation” remark, were terrible; and Secretary of State Clinton’s remarks on Meet the Press last week about not seeking any “long-term, you know, presence” in Afghanistan were unhelpful. Regardless of the substance, any talk of occupation, exit strategy, and no long-term presence at the advent of a new offensive sends the wrong signals to our allies and enemies.
But on Tuesday night, President Obama can change all of this. Based on recent reports and his most recent statements, there is reason to believe he might. When asked about his announcement, the president specifically said his strategy would be aimed at “finishing the job,” an unambiguous statement. It also appears that General McChrystal will (finally) be called to testify before Congress next week. Additionally, President Obama will be on the Hill shoring up support.
These are all good signs that initially, at least, the president is prepared to make the case for “finishing the job.” However, the larger test will be whether or not the president is willing to continue making the case (for years) to the American people, especially as U.S. casualties initially increase (as we push into enemy havens) and the success of the Afghan surge is called into question (remember July of 2007 on Iraq?). Facing a robust Taliban enemy, a corrupt Afghan government, and an inability to insert all necessary troops quickly, the onus will be on the president to be patient, and to call on others to do the same. Success is possible, but it will take time, and will necessitate presidential leadership.
This decision — should it hold — is the first step. But the ensuing debate will likely be an Iraq surge redux, and this time, America and its warriors need President Obama to be on the right side of history.
Also, last week I took issue with Sen. Fred Thompson’s Harry Reid–like “the war is lost” comments. To his great credit, he has invited me on his radio show tomorrow to discuss this, and hopefully I will make the case why we cannot afford to do to President Obama on Afghanistan what the Left did to President Bush on Iraq.
— Lt. Pete Hegseth, who served in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division from 2005 to 2006, is executive director of Vets for Freedom.