Monday, August 30, 2010

Afghan policy review

Marc Ambinder suggests that the Obama administration's review of policy in Afghanistan, slated for December, in fact will be strongly shaped by current perceptions of the conflict there. He notes that the process of agency position development and interagency coordination of paperwork is already beginning. I think he's only partly right.

As I see the policy process -- on almost any issue --within the Executive Branch, it's an ongoing contest between advocates of the status quo and advocates of change. The Afghan review has the added twist of an announced deadline, which is action-forcing. I expect that status quo advocates are preparing papers that emphasize progress being made and make all the usual "stay the course" arguments. Change advocates, however, know that this is their opportunity to make the case for whatever they feel is lacking. No doubt some military officers are saying things like, 'Drop the 2011 deadline, Give us even more time and more resources." No doubt others are saying, "Press Karzai harder," or "Go around Karzai," or whatever they have been urging in recent weeks. Somebody may even have ideas on how to "cut our losses" without suffering a "defeat."

I'm sure that the issues are quite complex, the trade-offs painful, with many goals conflicting. I just hope that, as the policymakers narrow down their options to simpler packages, they ground their choices in evidence-based possibilities and not just hope.

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