While President Obama no doubt embraces safety of the U.S. population as a value worth preserving, he is weighing the marginal value of sending additional troops to Afghanistan against the value of public opinion regarding continued/increased U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, and subsequently his approval rating. The rubric for decision-making in Afghanistan should be much clearer.
In two recent NYTimes articles, Peter Baker identifies this dilemma in conjunction with recent struggles among military advisors and strategists in defining what ultimate success in Afghanistan looks like. With regard to this success, in his August 22nd article Baker quotes Obama’s special representative to Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke as stating, “We’ll know it when we see it.” The apparent struggle highlights a worrisome pattern within U.S. military involvement over the past 6 years. While there are definite motivations for U.S. involvement in Afghanistan—stability until election results are final (as valid or invalid as they may be), maintaining semblance of peace while Pakistan knocks on the door, and preventing Afghan leadership from laying out a welcome mat for terrorists, motivation and strategy are quite different.
Without a formalized strategy containing clearly defined objectives, it will be impossible for U.S. forces to effectively accomplish anything in Afghanistan, or to maintain support for our involvement among the U.S. population. If a definite strategy can be set forth, decisions to send additional troops can be measured objectively against specific strategic needs; the “choice vs. necessity” debate then gives way to a “necessary for success” argument. Congressional leaders and the U.S. population are likely to respond with greater support when a clear vision guides action.