Trouble Lurking

Kevin Drum comments on Afghanistan NATO Commander Gen. Stanley McChrsytal’s savvy troop request strategy. The idea is pretty basic negotiating: set extremes as plausible and “settle” for the compromise. In terms of this particular question, the choices are a a “high risk option” of no troops, a much higher, not to be taken seriously request of around 80,000 troops, and a the “compromise” of about 40,000. Kevin registers his displeasure with promoting Generals based on political acumen.

This is all pretty obvious stuff and I don’t want to make too much out of it.  But I’ll repeat something I said earlier anyway: I’m not really thrilled at the idea of the Pentagon focusing its energies on promoting generals who are good Washington gameplayers.  If McChrystal truly doesn’t favor the higher option, we’d all be better off if he just left it out and instead made the recommendation he really believes in. Trying to box in the commander-in-chief may be business as usual when it comes to things like F-22 acquisitions or base closings, but I don’t have to like it.  I especially don’t have to like it when it comes to things a little more important than Lockheed-Martin’s balance sheet.  And I don’t.

This is all true, but to get to the specific question at hand, it really makes me continue to worry about the strategic rational for being in Afghanistan. That is, it’s hard to see how a single consistent approach could simultaneously allow for no troop increase, a moderate troop increase, and a massive troop increase. I mean, if the war would be best executed with a troop increase of 80,000, then that’s something that should be considered and McChrystal should make the case on the merits. Same goes for 40,000 or no additional troops. But if the range of options is somewhere between 0 and 80,000, that sounds more like a strategy for escalation for its own sake than it does for achieving any specific goals. And that is cause for concern.

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