The Corner

Does Combining Two Bad Ideas Make One Good Idea?

No, it makes one really bad idea. But if today’s New York Times report is accurate, that’s where we’re headed in Afghanistan:

President Obama’s advisers are focusing on a strategy for Afghanistan aimed at protecting about 10 top population centers, administration officials said Tuesday, describing an approach that would stop short of an all-out assault on the Taliban while still seeking to nurture long-term stability…. At the heart of this strategy is the conclusion that the United States cannot completely eradicate the insurgency in a nation where the Taliban is an indigenous force — nor does it need to in order to protect American national security. Instead, the focus would be on preventing Al Qaeda from returning in force while containing and weakening the Taliban long enough to build Afghan security forces that would eventually take over the mission.

In effect, the approach blends ideas advanced by General McChrystal and by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., seen as opposite poles in the internal debate. General McChrystal has sought at least 40,000 more troops for a counterinsurgency strategy to protect Afghan civilians so they will support the central government. Mr. Biden has opposed a buildup, contending that a bigger military footprint could be counterproductive and that fighting Al Qaeda in Pakistan should be the top priority.

A strategy of protecting major Afghan population centers would be “McChrystal for the city, Biden for the country,” as one administration official put it. Officials said Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates was playing a crucial role, balancing the case made by commanders with the skepticism of some civilians on Mr. Obama’s war council as the debate entered its final days.

A senior military officer said the developing strategy adopted General McChrystal’s central tenet. “We are no longer thinking about just destroying the enemy in a conventional way,” the officer said. “We must remove the main pressure that civilians live under, which is the constant intimidation and corruption and direct threat from the insurgency.”

ME: Am I missing something here?  I thought we needed this new strategy because only it would deny safe haven to al-Qaeda. Now, we are evidently going to do counterinsurgency despite conceding at the outset that it won’t really work because the Taliban is “an indigenous force” (translation: It has too much support among its fellow Afghan Muslims); under “Biden for the country,” we are going to cede the vast countryside to the Taliban, which will then be free to give al-Qaeda the safe-haven it was purportedly our objective to prevent (and you know that’s what we’re doing because a “senior administration official” felt it necessary to tell the Times, “We are not talking about surrendering the rest of the country to the Taliban”); and under McChrystal for the city, while we don’t go after the Taliban because “we are no longer thinking about just destroying the enemy in a conventional way,” we’re going to focus on solving the real challenge to U.S. national security . . . Afghan corruption.