Day 16, November 15, 2008



As the delirium over Barack Obama's monumental win starts to die down, the murmuring over public dissent among his generals is starting to catch on.

Famously Obama championed – or as some would have it, pandered to – the public call to “ Bring the troops home!”, calling for a withdrawal of US soldiers from Iraq within 16 months, something top-ranking generals including General Petraeus is opposed to.

With this clear disagreement, then-candidate Obama made clear back in April,

“I will listen to Gen Petraeus given the experience he has accumulated over the last several years. It would be stupid of me to ignore what he has to say. But it is my job as President, it would be my job as Commander in Chief to set the mission.

Three months later, he said about General Petraeus,

“If I were in his shoes, I’d probably feel the same way... But my job as a candidate for president and a potential commander in chief extends beyond Iraq, so what we saw in Afghanistan, for example, where you’ve got a deteriorating security situation and all the commanders uniformly indicated that two to three brigades would be extraordinarily helpful in allowing them to accomplish their goals.”

However the situation in Afghanistan is not one that can be solved by sending more troops.

When asked about Afghanistan, General Petraeus stated, “Some of the concepts used in Iraq are transplantable [to Afghanistan] while others perhaps are not. Every situation is unique.”

This echoes the view of various other army commanders with experience on the ground in Afghanistan.

Back in August, General David McKiernan, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan had rejected the idea of replicating the blend of counterinsurgency strategy employed in Iraq, and recruiting Pashtun tribal fighters to supplement Afghan security forces.

In an interview with Reuters released today,  Eric Elderman, the undersecretary for defense policy spells out how conditions in both countries differ vastly.

Iraq has huge oil and gas resources, a centralized government and a well-educated population. Afghanistan on the other hand is dealing with grave poverty, little history of centralized rule and 80 percent illiteracy. The insurgency in Iraq had also been primarily based in urban areas while militants in Afghanistan are holed up in some of the world's most forbidding terrain.

Given a completely different ball game, there is no guarantee that the successful General Petraeus will be able to replicate the results he achieved in Iraq in Afghanistan. President Bush's Defense Secretary is  expected to remain in his portfolio in the new administration which can only mean one of two things.

1.There will be not be that much of a change in both troop deployment and strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan, even with the new purportedly anti-war president, or
2.There is going to be great dissent between the Defense Department and the Obama White House.

Either way, it is unlikely there will be a MacAuthur-style insubordination to the president, so as Commander-in-Chief, Obama should theoretically be the one to call the shots.

But given the uncertainty of the Afghan situation, is the goodwill the American people have for their new president enough to make them stick it out for a long-drawn campaign where the only change from Iraq is that of the scenery?


Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
You are not logged in: