I went on the Alyona Show yesterday to discuss a book I haven’t read:
To elaborate a bit, I think that it’s correct to say that the President could have de-escalated in Afghanistan if he’d been willing to expend the political capital necessary to do so. The Woodward seems to indicate that the President did, in fact, want options for de-escalation. Opposition within the military, the professional national security bureaucracy, and the foreign policy elite of the Democratic Party could have been overcome; a different set of advisers would have presented different options (although the pro-escalation bias in all three of the above communities would have persisted). Observing this, however, doesn’t excuse us from taking note of how difficult de-escalation would have been for the President. I don’t think it’s surprising that Obama chose to pursue priorities other than de-escalation; to the extent that we want assign credit and blame, taking note of the obstacles doesn’t preclude us from determining that he deserves either or both.
I’d also want to briefly re-iterate what appears to have been a central aspect of the President’s thinking: Ten years and another trillion dollars IS defeat, regardless of the situation that we leave behind in Afghanistan. There is no construction of US national interest (as apart from parochial interest) that could treat such an intervention as victory. The position of the uniformed military is interesting. Although the military as an institution is less pro-intervention than commonly assumed, in this case the senior command appeared to be resolutely pro-escalation. This is entirely understandable; this leadership continues to remember the demoralized military of the 1970s, and does not wish to be perceived as responsible for failure in another war. On the other hand, there are substantial portions of the uniformed military which are deeply skeptical of the COIN strategy being used in Afghanistan, and which wouldn’t be too sad to see that doctrine fail. This includes elements of both the USAF and USN, but also a faction of the Army.