Big Afghanistan Increase Not a Done Deal

For a while it’s looked like the idea of a large additional increase in the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan over and above the increase we already did at the very beginning of the Obama administration was a done deal. More recently, though, indications have come in that it’s not. Spencer Ackerman reports that DOD civilian officials are promising that General McChrystal’s requests will get a higher level of review:

I asked a knowledgeable Defense Department official, who would only talk on condition of anonymity, how Gates will react to any additional troop request from McChrystal. “You can be sure that the initial McChrystal request will not be rubber stamped without a lot of scrutiny,” the official replied. “The bar is not unclearable for major increases — but it’s set pretty high.”

Saying “no” to General McChrystal and facing potentially damaging leaks from his staff could be politically dicey. But strategically it’s absolutely correct to not just show infinite deference to a theater commander (every police captain in America probably thinks his district is the one that needs more cops, and they can’t all be right) but to instead try to look at the big picture.

Meanwhile, Peter Baker and Elizabeth Bumiller bring the inside dirt on divisions between the administration’s high-level policymakers. According to their reporting, Hillary Clinton and Richard Holbrooke are enthusiastic about sending more troops to Afghanistan whereas Joe Biden and Robert Gates are not. Back during the primaries, some of us supported Obama over Clinton precisely because Obama and the Obama team seemed to have more progressive, less militaristic ideas about national security policy than Clinton and her go-to guys like Holbrooke. Overall, I think the Obama administration’s foreign policy has been pretty great, but I’m very queasy about some of these hawkish ideas on Afghanistan.