Belmont Club

Not To Reason Why

The New York Times describes more evolution in action in its article, Charting Obama’s Journey to a Shift on Afghanistan.  The article is by David Sanger, based on his own book, Confront and Conceal. “President Obama’s thinking about what he once called “a war of necessity” began to radically change less than a year after he took up residency in the White House.”

in the first days of his presidency, Mr. Obama asked Bruce O. Riedel, a former C.I.A. officer with deep knowledge of the region, to lead a rapid review. At the time, the president was still speaking in campaign mode. He talked about remaking “an economy that isn’t dominated by illicit drugs” in Afghanistan and a “civilian surge” to match the military effort. But he said little about the Riedel team’s central insight: that Pakistan posed a far greater threat.

“If we were honest with ourselves, we would call this problem ‘Pak/Af,’ not ‘Af/Pak,’ ” Mr. Riedel said shortly after turning in his report. But the White House would not dare admit that publicly — even that rhetorical reversal would further alienate the Pakistanis …

Mr. Obama concluded that the Pentagon had not internalized that the goal was not to defeat the Taliban …

his goals now focus largely on finishing off Al Qaeda and keeping Pakistan’s nuclear weapons from going astray. Left unclear is how America will respond if a Taliban resurgence takes over wide swathes of the country America invaded in 2001 and plans to largely depart 13 years later.

Sanger’s book blurb describes it as “a fascinating, unflinching account of these complex years, in which the president and his administration have found themselves struggling to stay ahead in a world where power is diffuse and America’s ability to exert control grows ever more elusive.” A less charitable observer might conclude it was the story of how the President deliberately fought the wrong war with the wrong enemy while belatedly promising to fight the right foe at some future unspecified date and perhaps yield up all the gains from fighting the wrong foe in the first place.

The line “Mr. Obama concluded that the Pentagon had not internalized that the goal was not to defeat the Taliban” seems to speak volumes. But evolution is a wonderful thing, implying progress from a primitive and ineffective concept to a much more nuanced and enlightened view. So surely there must be a silver lining to this tale.

Maybe there is. As President Karzai put it, “thanks for your taxpayer’s money”.


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