Thursday, June 23, 2011

the center path

I recall riding with my Dad, who complained that an oncoming driver "wants to take his half [of the road] down the middle." I recall Henry Kissinger complaining that options memos in government always seemed tilted toward "option B," the supposed middle ground between capitulation and nuclear war.

I was not surprised when President Obama split the differences among his advisers by choosing a faster withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan than his military commanders favored but slower than what some political advisers urged. I was surprised,however, that the President actually announced this: "We must chart a centered course." I also recoiled from his use of the light at the end of the tunnel metaphor, when he said "And even as there will be dark days ahead in Afghanistan, the light of a secure peace can be seen in the distance." I was not upset by the little white lie by senior administration officials, however, when they claimed that public opinion "really doesn't play a role" in the decision. That's what they have to say.

I leave it to the experts to assess whether we really are in a "position of strength" in Afghanistan.  I'm most dismayed by the failure -- for a lot of reasons -- of the U.S. government to carry out the "civilian surge" also promised at West Point, and the failure to make much progress at the political-strategic level with Kabul and the Karzai government.

The center path has some advantages, but it also can be dangerous to pursue.

UPDATE: More detailed reporting in National Journal says that Sec. Gates prevailed in a centrist compromise on the troop withdrawal plan.

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