Democracy Arsenal

« China’s Wary Communists | Main | The Real Legacy of David Petraeus »

August 11, 2011

On Afghanistan, Should Obama Have Deferred to the Generals?
Posted by Jacob Stokes

AfghanistanA narrative is brewing among the GOP candidates that the president made a mistake in announcing a modest drawdown of U.S. troops from Afghanistan last June. Herman Cain has the latest version of it. His electoral chances are slim, but his comments are likely be echoed throughout the campaign. Over the weekend Cain told an Iowa TV station, “The surge was working. Why not let it continue to work?  The president didn't listen to his experts, his generals.  That would be the difference between a Herman Cain and a President Obama, is that I will listen to my experts.”

First, let’s be clear about what the military leadership said about the policy. The two leaders whose advice Obama didn’t follow to the letter were Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen and then-ISAF Commander David Petraeus. The words of those two men are where this criticism stems from.

Mullens words were, "The president's decisions are more aggressive and incur more risk than I was originally prepared to accept.” Fair enough, but if one reads the next in the story, it’s clear Mullen’s objections aren’t deep-seated. The Reuters story on the testimony continued, “Pressed by lawmakers, Mullen later added that he had concluded that the risks were manageable.” (My emphasis.)

The story went on to note the Joint Chiefs Chairman’s recognition that political incentives for Afghan leadership matter in a counterinsurgency campaign: “Mullen said bringing home troops offered some benefits, including reinforcing the goal of putting Afghans in control of their own security by the end of 2014. ‘The truth is, we would have run other kinds of risks by keeping more forces in Afghanistan longer. We would have made it easier for the Karzai administration to increase their dependency on us,’ Mullen said.”

Petraeus, for his part, expressed his view that the decision was “aggressive,” but not enough to warrant any real protest:  "It is again a more aggressive approach than (top commanders) and I would have indeed certainly put forward, but this is not something I think where one hangs up the uniform in protest, or something like that.” Petraeus is duty-bound to resign if he believes a decision made by the president is reckless or puts troops in extreme and unnecessary danger. He didn’t.

In short, while the military might have been hesitant about Obama’s plan, it’s neither reckless nor strategically misguided. Even if the military held that view though, there are three reasons why, ultimately, the president has to have final say on decisions like this. 

1. The President, as commander-in-chief, must see the whole strategic picture. As Rob Farley put it yesterday, the war has created its own constituency which has a great stake in seeing a “victory.” Military leaders who have advocated for the “surge” and counterinsurgency are deeply invested in the success of their efforts. Farley writes, “the overriding institutional interest of the U.S. military -- again, particularly the Army and Marine Corps -- relatively simple: Avoid defeat.” On the whole, that’s good—we want militaries who will do what it takes to win—as long as we have civilian and political control over the military. The president, in this sense, is the chief strategic integrator of policy. He has to look at all the parts, and therefore his call should carry the day.

2. As for Cain’s contention that we should look to the experts, there are scores of experts who have argued that huge U.S. military effort, and the resource demands that come with that effort, aren’t proportional to the threat emanating from Afghanistan—especially given the degradation of al Qaeda that America and its allies have achieved in recent years. If you don’t know who these people are, here’s a list.

3. Finally, the surge won military gains, but failed in governance and politics. From a military perspective, yes, ISAF occupied/cleared terrority and we were holding it, but it takes political will from Afghans to “build.” That requires a durable political settlement and accountable government. Those don’t currently exist in Afghanistan, and a huge, indefinite military presence wasn’t and isn’t going to fix those problems. As Steve Coll put it in his seminal article reporting talks with the Taliban, “It is past time for the United States to shift some of its capacity for risk-taking in the war off the battlefield and into diplomacy aimed at reinforcing Afghan political unity, neutrality, civil rights, and social cohesion.”

Next time someone running for president says they’d listen to their generals blindly, the question on everyone’s mind should be: Are they really ready to lead?

Photo: U.S. Army via Flickr


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference On Afghanistan, Should Obama Have Deferred to the Generals?:


Cain's comments probably come from the same old anti-Obama reflex, but I have to wonder if there is something more worrying at play. Republicans have been deserting the norms of governance and trying to guarantee conservative domination of our institutions. All the candidates have repudiated the principle of separation of church and state (but not mosque and state); state governments have begun a "massive resistance" strategy toward health care reform by filing law suits, refusing to set up temporary insurance pools, and so forth. The military is obviously a Movement-approved organization, so I wonder if a Republican president might outright embrace effective military control over defense policy. That would certainly put constraints on a future Democratic president's ability to make independent decisions regarding defense. And at this point, asserting partisan control over government seems to be the Republicans' main objective.

*By which I mean the conservative movement approves of the military, not that the military is affiliated with the conservative movement. (The latter is obvious, but I didn't want the comment to be misconstrued.)

The first time I came to like your blog, let me in it can learn about the latest thing, I will stay focused on.

Can I just say what a relief to find someone who actually knows what theyre talking about on the internet. You definitely know how to bring an issue to light and make it important. More people need to read this and understand this side of the story. I cant believe youre not more popular because you definitely have the gift.

You may have an amazing blog right here! Would you prefer to make some invite posts on my blog?

It is incomprehensible to me now, but in general, the usefulness and significance is overwhelming.

I like read news.

very interesting! thanks!

Thank you for these interesting inforrmations strong, it is really fun to come across articles as interesting as yours! I wish you health, longevity, success, happiness and peace of heart.

it is really fun to come across articles as interesting as yours! keep on!

Thank you for your analysis and sharing, from your article I learned more.

it is really fun to come across articles as interesting as yours! keep on!sbobet 7m Livescore แทงบอล ผลบอล คาสิโน คาสิโนออนไลน์

I think I can agree with you about it,it is really a problem.

Yes,thanks for your sharing

Some time to read what is written on the blog main pain in the ass, but the site is very happy user!

Thanks for the well-thought article.Nice writing, thanks for sharing your post with me!Thanks for sharing such a valuable information!

Have some validity, but until I see farther into it, I will take the public opinion. Good article, thanks and we hope to have more! In addition, Feedburner as well as

I really appreciate the person who has written such a wonderful blog. Your simple use of language and no frills makes the post a great read.

Your idea is outstanding; the issue is something that not enough people are speaking intelligently about. I am very happy that I stumbled across this in my search for something relating to this.

which only need you $14.99,it can help you save a lot of money. Opportunity not to be missed, what are you waiting for

Looks great feeling.

A number of us learn all of the compelling way you produce rewarding information through this blog and as well strongly encourage contribution from others on the area so my girl is in fact being taught a lot of things.

Sometimes I just feel that people write, and do not really have much to say. This is not the case. You must have something to say, you say style, my man! You certainly have an interesting way to attract people, and with your video and your words. You have got quite a blog twelve punch!

Great article.

復元は本当にそのケア無料の技術的に挑戦はない、まだ一種のものは、1 つの非常に少ない (自身) 実施できたことらしいを観察します。誠実さの中、適切な電源パックを見つけることができるためには簡単に可能に時計、小売店で利用いたバッテリー交換ユニットを発生します。

The post is pretty interesting. I really never thought I could have a good read by this time until I found out this site. I am grateful for the information given. Thank you for being so generous enough to have shared your knowledge with us.

I like read post, Thank you.

Generally I do not post on articles, but I would like to say that this article really forced me to do so!No doubt that this is a Awesome article,definitely liked the info provided.

Somehow some of the downfalls of a presidency is a military connected decision since he after all is the commander-in-chief--something to do with American democracy. It may well be something someone can use also as campaign material, but it isn't really the first time for the president and his commanders to disagree on something. Afghanistan and all other wars the US is involved in could well be it's achilles heel and a president's make or break decision. But I agree that usually the real picture is distorted by critics. Somehow, this article is a great way of clearing things up.

A president is as good as his general. Most of the time what military leaders see cannot always be converted well in politics. That can also be said with public options towards military actions. Afghanistan is a complicated situation waiting to explode.

This is a great one..nice article, thanks for share with us… I learn a lot with your words.. thank for the post.

For the imaginary benefit Canada Goose Jackets of buying directly, and without Canada Goose Outlet duties, from a foreign Canada Goose Coats nation which takes their cotton, they would Canada Goose Parka give up and sacrifice the entire Canada Goose Jacket manufacturing industry of their own country, and return to a state of colonial dependency on Great Britain

How is it that just anybody can write a blog and get as popular as this? Its not like youve said anything incredibly impressive –more like youve painted a pretty picture over an issue that you know nothing about! I dont want to sound mean, here. But do you really think that you can get away with adding some pretty pictures and not really say anything?

nice article, thanks for share with us

Nice post! I have read it carefully and I'm like it very much. Thank you for your post it out for us!

I would like to Thank you for your posting ! The content is attractive ! And looking forward to your update news !

Nice informative post. Thanks

I'm glad I stumbled across your site today and found this short articleis very enlightening. I sent it to my own best friend is also interested in the subject lot.

Great, this article is really sweet this significant theme. I am with your conclusion, your call will be thirsty look forward to updates. Say thanks not only enough, in the stunning clarity of your writing. Stay informed of any updates, I will grab your RSS feed directly. The work is very admirable success in your business! Please forgive my poor English, because it is not my first language.

I would like to Thank you for your posting ! The content is attractive ! And looking forward to your update news !

Many thanks for the article. I will have a link back to this information from our fresh blog.

The work is very admirable success in your business! Please forgive my poor English, because it is not my first language.

Thanks for the insight. You are absolutely right.

Great post, insightful into obams views

Great job! I'm looking for this information a long time, I found it here.I am a lucky man, to be honest, 'really important to me. Thank you forsharing with us its kind.Very good indeed.

Hong Kong actress Carina Lau admitted that her marriage with Tony Leung Chiu-Wai has problems and they have given up on plans for artificial insemination, Taiwan media reported.Carina Lau and Tony Leung have shared a relationship of more than 20 years and finally tied the knot 3 years ago in Bhutan. Lau said she has marriage problems just like everyone else and how to working it out is the most important thing."God has given me a lot, and I am grateful for the challenges. I have communicated with Tony that when it comes to the baby thing, we would leave it to fate," she said.

I thought it was going to be some boring old post, but it really compensated for my time. I will post a link to this page on my blog. I am sure my visitors will find that very useful

We have gotten many great comments from our customers and earn a good reputation in foreign makerts, more than 90% customers are satisfied with our products and service, till now our online members are beyond 80,000. As of right now, we Replica Handbags currently serve customers from over 18 countries, and we are still growing. We really hope to expand our business through cooperation with individuals and companies from around the world.

Very useful article for me, there is more information I have is very important. Thank you! I'm glad you could get out of it to share with us.

Villas-Boas has insisted that he will not jeopardise

A big day tomorrow for our nation. I hope everyone takes a good bit of time to reflect on the facts, as our future depends on it.

your opinion is right! I support you! I will let my friends to read!

i like it, thank you for sharing.

This is a great one..nice article, thanks for share with us…

I was actually looking for this resource a few weeks back. Thanks for sharing with us your wisdom.This will absolutely going to help me in my projects.

suddenly, she began to twist the front of the void, an intense wave of magic distributed over, the sudden appearance of a void in the black hand , stab out her sword, when the palm has been exposed to her vindictive, light Dasheng, the black hand

The nomination of the winner depends on the capability and spirit of the personality to finish the race.I like the post very much as it contain informative in knowledge.I like pics of Chelsea shares of the beauty of running in Madison, Wisconsin.I want to congratulate the winner for the nomination race.I want to know suggestion from others.

If this war had have happened in the 1940's I wonder if we or anyone would still be there? What happened to that kind of leadership?

I was actually looking for this resource a few weeks back. Thanks for sharing with us your wisdom.This will absolutely going to help me in my projects

Nice blog, your articles and stories are very interesting thank you again Sohbetizmcik

Thanks for the insight. You are absolutely right.

But as opposed to missing out over a wonderful stroll by sitting within a cart vehicle, these electric

Thanks very good information, clear and precise

your opinion is right! I support you! I will let my friends to read!

You have done some good points there. I did a search on the subject, found a considerable number of people will follow your blog.

You happen to be thus nice! When i dont think There are understand whatever like that before. For that reason awesome to seek out anyone with some genuine ideas on it issue. realy i appreciate you for establishing that together. this web site is one thing that is required via the internet, somebody through a little special. effective responsibility of driving something new to the web!

Very good stuff you may have there, I will be back for a lot more reading quickly.

I bookmark your blog and will come back in the foreseeable future. I want to encourage that you continue your great job.

your post is amazing and keep post i bookmarked this post and share with my friends. thanks

Thanks very good information, clear and precise

this is great job with great article

A real lot of useful info here!These are all great comments here. Very cool article.

Interesting read, bit difficult to understand.

Thank you very much for posting and sharing this great article. It is so interesting. I want to know some other information about this site. So please give me this news quickly. I always will be aware of you.

Thanks for a wonderful share. Your article has proved your hard work and experience you have got in this field. Brilliant .i love it reading.

I have bookmarked your blog, the articles are way better than other similar blogs.. thanks for a great blog! data recovery

I have bookmarked your blog, the articles are way better than other similar blogs.. thanks for a great blog!

Lately I came to your website and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my initial comment. Keep writing, because your posts are impressive!

new era hat
I also for you call and pleasure, to speak and so concerned you remember most, is sad that under heavy rain until two with you to call me, you
red bull hats
constantly cry, how much I worry, I ask you but you silent, then you cry and say you side of sad, add your was sick of how much I love!
wholesale new era hat
Then at last you can't stand the pressure of work, you don't have to go to work, I also inadvertently in work, but due to the boss's kind, I continue
wholesale cheap new era hats
to be there on the class, the university admission notice gradually come, your dinner party has gradually many, every night to celebrate the
monster Energy hats
students of the university entrance exam of joy, every time was drunk, you always like to call me in where where to pick you up, remember
fox Racing hats
when I get off work in, in a hurry to pick you up, and when I path, breeze to blow, slightly cool, seeing in the distance you thin figure, I feel you
wholesale monster energy hats
cold, I rush approach, see if you get drunk, you always light smiles, and you say "nothing, in fact I know you drink is very good, you said you a
cheap monster energy hats
little uncomfortable, a little cold. I said to go home! So late, you total want to walk, walk in the street, walk slowly a little, and finally came to
fox racing hats discount
wholesale red bull hats
your home downstairs, you always love quietly standing there, and then

Among those posts I've seen, this is the most particular one, and I think the blogger must have spent lots of time on it, thank you so much!

Great Information sharing .. I am very happy to read this article .. thanks for giving us go through info.Fantastic nice. I appreciate this post.

The APPARENT reason and motive of the war has been ended SO SHOULD THE WAR!!!

It is very complicate discussion..we gotta stop this...for sure..

Good post..really appreciate it!

I like what you did here...thanks a lot for the info!

A man can fail many times, but he isn't a failure until he begins to blame somebody else.

Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear on this weblog until the author has approved them.

This weblog only allows comments from registered users. To comment, please Sign In.

Sign-up to receive a weekly digest of the latest posts from Democracy Arsenal.
Powered by TypePad


The opinions voiced on Democracy Arsenal are those of the individual authors and do not represent the views of any other organization or institution with which any author may be affiliated.
Read Terms of Use