Thursday, December 3, 2009

Case study: Afghanistan

I'm eagerly awaiting a comprehensive tick-tock on the Afghanistan decision -- a journalist's narrative based on insider comments of the thrust and parry leading up to the President's West Point speech. Until we get declassified documents and memoirs, or at least until Bob Woodward's next book, that will be our chief source on what happened. These are helpful to scholars and even more valuable to teachers, who can assign them in class.

So far it looks as if the President's decision was the typical compromise. The military commander wanted more resources; the ambassador wanted to use the occasion to exert leverage over the local government; the Pentagon wanted to support the commander while still keeping costs and other risks in line; the State Department wanted more resources for its efforts and wanted a decision that enhanced its other foreign policy initiatives; political advisers wanted to reassure nervous congressional and public supporters that we weren't entering a quagmire. And so the final decision was to give the commander much of what he sought, but subject to a narrowed mission and a public pledge to begin some kind of drawdown by mid-2010.

Most presidential decisions are compromises, balancing the policy and bureaucratic interests at stake. Now let's see what other juicy details emerge to explain how we got to this point.

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