The Mitch Perry Report: Will Obama stand up to the generals on Afghanistan?

The administration is buying some time for now, reassessing what is the correct strategy (counter-terrorism vs. counter-insurgency seems to be part of the calculus, with the latter including more nation-building).  But politically, Obama's ultimate decision figures to be far more explosive than his actions on whether to look back at allegations of CIA abuses of detainees or whether or not to fund missile defense overseas.


With McChrystal's position now being supported by CentCom leader General David Petraeus and Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen, Obama's so far firm alliance with the military could bust wide open if he chooses not to endorse the McChrystal plan.


Download the Mitch Perry Report podcast here.



On Sunday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the decision would come in a few weeks.  But he hinted that the reviews to be undertaken by the administration "are more about strategy than resources."


When asked by ABC's George Stephanopoulous what would define victory in Afghanistan, Gates went to the Oliver Wendell Holmes line on what defined pornography, saying,  "We'll know it when we see it."


As has been said and written (perhaps too many times), Afghanistan has been "the good war," the war that many officials (and the Democratic left) say the U.S. has mishandled by shifting resources in 2002 from where Al-Queda had situated to the neoconservatives' wet dream that was Iraq.


That's the rhetoric that Obama employed throughout the 2008 campaign  —  along with the fact that he would withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq within 16 months if elected.  While we still have over 130,000 troops there,  mandated withdrawals are coming.


But just a couple of months into his presidency, Obama emphasized that the conflict in Afghanistan , unlike Iraq, was "not a war of choice, but one of necessity."


Also on Sunday, the Washington Post's Bob Woodward reported that members of the administration, after having their strategy discussions, could persuade McChrystal that he doesn't need the troops to "win."


Jones said it remains possible that, after a decision on strategy by the president, McChrystal might change his mind about the need for more troops. "We will ask General McChrystal, and say, 'Okay, now that you've heard what our strategy is, does this affect your thinking in terms of your resources and, if so, how?'", Jones said.


Add to this the possibility that we may not even have a viable partner in Hamid Karzai, with the election there still mired in allegations of ballot stuffing and voter coercion, and you can see why the administration needs to think hard about making a commitment that will cost more American lives and treasure.


The Obama Administration also announced last week (to no suprise) that they are not going to be able to close Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba by next January, as the president had promised upon taking office.  Gates on ABC said that he didn't regret setting that deadline, saying that without setting such deadlines  in Washington, things don't ever get done.


Of all the detritus that his predecessor left for him to handle, nothing is messier than the situation at Gitmo.  Virtually no other countries want to receive those detained there (though Ireland accepted two and Yemen one over the weekend), and the American public has acted terrified about housing any such detainees in facilities that are already secure enough to house some of our worst criminals.


Also on the Sunday talk show circuit, the Big Dog, Bill Clinton , made one of his rare appearances,  this time with David Gregory on Meet The Press.  Clinton occasionally deigns to do Sunday morning while he's trumpeting his Global Initiative Conference.  Unlike his celebrated  tete-a-tete with Fox News' Chris Wallace a few years back, the former president was relatively low-key in this appearance.


He called the GOP hate attack machine,  which relentlessly attacked him during his first years in office, "not as strong (as in the '90s) but it is as virulent."


He added that not having a respectable opposition party isn't good for the country.  And though obviously partisan, the GOP should pay attention.  For all of their excitement about how their steadfast opposition to health care reform has resuscitated the party, a series of recent polls show that if health care reform does not happen this year, the country is ready to blame Republicans.


True, those are just the latest series of polls, which sometimes show the public all over the map on health care (though not on the public option — most polls show people want that, once they understand what it is).  But it does indicate that just being the Party of No might not be a sufficient attraction for independent voters in 2010.

There are currently 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.  But according to a report leaked to the Washington Post last week,  the top commander on the ground there, General Stanley McChrystal, wants to increase the troop strength by up to 40,000 more troops.

Meanwhile, back at home,  the American populace (as measured by public opinion polls) seems to be growing weary of the war, approaching its 8th anniversary.  Some legislators (such as House Appropriations Chairman  David Obey of Wisconsin) have already gone on record as saying they are dubious about spending more on the war if there isn't more progress on the ground.

What does Barack Obama do? (Download the Mitch Perry Report podcast after the break.)

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