Obama’s Afghanistan Drawdown: From Good War to Subprime War

In thinking about the trajectory of President Barack Obama's approach to the Afghanistan War, from the initial March 2009 strategy review to the December 2009 troop surge to last night's address, it occurred to me that, when it comes to the politics of the war, Afghanistan has gone from being the "Good War" to being what is now the "Subprime War."

The administration's initial March 2009 review was the equivalent of a "nothing down" mortgage. As I noted at the time, it threaded a political needle, articulating a strategy -- a counterinsurgency approach to counterterrorism -- that allowed everyone to see in it what they wanted to. Because it refused to pick sides, the strategy pleased everyone and, politically speaking, cost nothing.

The president's West Point address announcing the troop surge in December 2009 amounted to the military equivalent of a TARP bailout package. The "Good War," long under-resourced, was facing a catastrophic failure. The surge bought time, but it signaled the end of the no-cost political atmosphere surrounding the war. The troop increase was "too much, too late," for war critics, and "too little, too short," for those who supported a nation-building/COIN approach. Still, it kicked the major decisions down the road, thereby leaving open the possibility for everyone to be vindicated in the end.

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