Declare Victory and Go Talk to Your Favorite Reporter

Bill Gertz yesterday:

On the one side were Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Deputy Secretary of State James B. Steinberg, who argued in closed-door meetings for a minimal strategy of stabilizing Afghanistan that one source described as a “lowest common denominator” approach. […] The other side of the debate was led by Richard C. Holbrooke, the special envoy for the region, who along with U.S. Central Command leader Gen. David H. Petraeus and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton fought for a major nation-building effort.

The Holbrooke-Petraeus-Clinton faction, according to the sources, prevailed. The result is expected to be a major, long-term military and civilian program to reinvent Afghanistan from one of the most backward, least developed nations to a relatively prosperous democratic state.

Also yesterday, Marc Ambinder reported precisley the opposite:


The new bearing reflects Vice President Joe Biden’s imprint. He has been arguing internally for a more focused counterterrorism mission rather than a larger, more complex counterinsurgency mission, which would involve significantly more American resources and troops.

I would say that the white paper is actually a document you could sort of read either way. The quantity of forces involved, however, suggests to me a more “Biden” approach. That said, if the account of the factions is correct than operational implementation of the strategy is in the hands of people — Holbrooke and Petraeus — who lean toward a maximalist vision.