You could get whiplash watching the Afghanistan debate underway within the Obama administration. One day, it looks like the president has decided to send the majority of the additional troops requested by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, and then the next day we are told that there is yet another meeting of the National Security Council to discuss new options.
The administration is so desperate to show that they aren’t just listening to the commanders in theater that even the leakers seem confused about how many options are on the table. Is it three, is it four, or is it five? Then, just when it appears that the president is about to make a decision, months after General McChrystal’s assessment landed on his desk, we’re told that he may need more time to mull it over.
The conventional wisdom was that the president would announce his decision prior to his departure for Asia on Thursday, that shifted to the week before Thanksgiving, and now today’s New York Times states that “it was possible that he could announce his decision in the three days before Thanksgiving . . . but that an announcement in the first week of December seemed more likely.”
Even if the president eventually sends a significant number of additional troops and allows General McChrystal to implement a counterinsurgency strategy, this painfully drawn out process has had negative consequences and does not bode well for the future U.S. commitment in Afghanistan. As a retired Air Force Chief Master Sergeant emailed to me after reading one of my Corner posts:
Our service members are dying and the president is dithering. I have been in the military while a president dithered or failed to make a tough decision, it is eviscerating, and a rot settles in. “Commander in Chief” is not just a fancy title. The president is the ultimate officer and like any poor officer his failure to make tough decisions is seen as a weakness by his NCOs and men. Morale, that most fragile base of any good military unit suffers immediately. When our officers are fearful and indecisive, we become fearful and indecisive.
NCOs find reasons not to patrol or to avoid high-risk areas, Convoys are diverted to avoid possible confrontation, our allies desert us and the advantage is ceded to the enemy.
And this happen quickly, weeks are all that’s left to keep the advantage in Afghanistan. After a certain point in time “mission weariness” begins to settle in and the edge is lost on our weapon and almost impossible to regain. Quite frankly I fear that the time to make a difference is quickly slipping away and even if he eventually approves the fully levy of Gen McChrystal’s request the momentum may have been permanently lost.
– Jamie M. Fly is executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative.