The plan, like all strategic reviews, seeks to first and foremost strike a balance between military necessities and political realities. As such, it threads the needle between two internal administration constituencies, and four external audiences.
Within the administration, it incorporates the diplomatic full-court press of the “good governance is the key to hearts and minds” counterinsurgency advocates (see Seth Rosen’s WPR Briefing) with the more modest security objectives of the “remember why we came here in the first place” counterterrorism advocates. The result, as a British diplomat put it in Hampton Stephens’ WPR Briefing, is “counterterrorism plus,” with the plus sign located on the Afghan security forces’ side of the ledger. (The 4,000 additional U.S. troops announced will be there to train Afghan forces.)
Further afield, it sends five distinct messages:
– To NATO allies: We’re all Europeans now. The post-post-9/11 era has officially begun.
– To Pakistan’s so-called government: Clock’s running, guys. Our patience not only has limits, it now has conditions attached.
– To Afghanistan’s so-called government: Clock’s running, guys. Our patience not only has limits, it now has conditions attached.
– To the so-called Moderate Taliban: Don’t make us hurt you. We’re looking for a way out of here, and the longer you shoot at us, the longer it will take for us to find it.
If I were a NATO ally, I’d be thinking, “I wonder what I could get in return for some token troop increases, after all.”
If I were Pakistan’s so-called government, I’d be thinking, “I wonder what I could get in return for some token security measures in the FATA, after all.”
If I were Afghanistan’s so-called government, I’d be thinking, “I wonder what I could get in return for some token anti-corruption measures, after all.”
And if I were a so-called Moderate Taliban, I’d be thinking, “I wonder what I could get in return for some token reduction in violence, after all.”
Since I’m not any of the above, but rather part of the American public, I’m thinking, “Okay, I’m not alarmed. But will the token gestures be enough to contain the die-hard Taliban, who have stepped up their determination to undermine our efforts in both Afghanistan and Pakistan?”
I don’t think President Obama had any alternative to a temporary escalation in Afghanistan. If I’m not getting alarmed, it’s because the way he chose to implement it leaves me reasonably convinced that he’s more committed to an exit strategy than to a prolonged quagmire. Which means that even if all we get out of this is token gestures, the next Afghanistan strategy review is more likely than not going to be a withdrawal timetable.