Monday Washington Post reporter of Watergate fame Bob Woodward reported that the commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, has warned President Obama that more troops are needed.
The consequences of not adding up to 40,000 troops would be, according to a 66-page document leaked to the Washington Post, “Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) — while Afghan security capacity matures — risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible.”
The document is said to paint a grim picture of a corrupt Afghan government and a fractured American/NATO force whose tactics are alienating the Afghan population. Only the addition of a massive number of troops, coupled with a new, anti insurgency strategy such as won the war in Iraq will turn things around.
Bob Woodward’s report illustrates the conundrum that President Obama finds himself in. Congressional Democrats are hostile to the idea of adding more troops to the Afghan campaign and would likely resist a Presidential order to do so, much as they resisted the surge strategy in Iraq under President George W. Bush.
On the other hand, defeat in Afghanistan, as warned about by General McChrystal, would be catastrophic for American strategy in the war on terror. The Talbian and Al Qaeda would once more have a base from which to launch terror attacks on the West. American prestige and interests would be dealt a body blow throughout the Middle East. American allies are already reeling from Obama administration decisions, concerning missile defense in Eastern Europe, Iran, and even Honduras that suggest that being an enemy of the United States under Obama is not dangerous while an ally is not safe.
Incidentally a defeat in Afghanistan would be lethal for President Obama’s political standing, already weakened by public unrest over spending, taxes, and health care reform.
Naturally there is rampant speculation about who leaked the document to Bob Woodward and the Washington Post and why. The most conventional theory is that a low level civilian in the Defense Department leaked the document, hoping that it would prod President Obama into doing the right thing and sending the troops.
One of the more Machiavellian theories suggests that President Obama leaked the document to Bob Woodward himself, the theory being that he would back himself into a corner and would thus be able to resist the blandishments of the Congressional Democrats to accept defeat in Afghanistan. This would suggest, though, a kind of subtle competence hitherto not in evident in the Obama administration.
In any event, just to drive home how serious he is, General McChrystal is reported to have promised to resign his commission in protest if his request for troops is not granted. The event would put President Obama in an untenable position indeed.