Yesterday, the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing on the President's Afghanistan policy, and we got a preview of the way things will likely go for him going forward. Obama's policy was attacked from both sides. Carl Levin of Michigan was the chief attacker of the president from the left and John McCain was the chief attacker of the president from the right.
Levin's main problem was extremely techical though it follows to a larger mantra of the left. According to Levin, the Obama plan requires that in the hold portion of the operation, (remember that this will still be Petraeus style counter insurgency of clear, hold, and build) that one American troop would be available for every three Afghan troops. Yet, according to Levin, there simply aren't enough trained Afghan troops to accomplish this. As such, Levin is very concerned about sending thirty thousand additional troops. In Levin's view, this operation needs to be lead by the Afghans not the Americans.
The left has long been calling for us to turn this operation into an advisory/training mission primarily. In that we build the Afghan military into as big and as efficient a fighting force as quickly as possible and leave our soldiers in the background so that the take on as few casualties as possible. (there is the extreme left that wants to pull out entirely as well)
The back and forth between Levin, Mullen and Gates was even more technical and ultimately Mullen put it best when he said that for each neighborhood things would be unique. So, it's not entirely clear if the president's goal of one American troop for three Afghans can or cannot be accomplished. What's more important is that the left has no use for any escalation and they will beat to death any and all available technicalities to show that the "escalation" is not worth it.
Meanwhile, McCain was fixated on the idea that Obama not only called for a date certain to begin the draw down but that this date certain would be "conditions based". McCain was almost a broken record in that the two aren't compatible. In reality, the president has shown over and over that deadlines and timelines are things he almost never keeps himself to. We were supposed to have health care reform by now. GITMO was supposed to be closed in January. So to are we supposed to draw down in July of 2011. It's likely as meaningless as all his timelines.
That's the point that Bill O'Reilly made last night. He's right but there's a larger point. First, if a president constantly sets timelines that aren't followed that's a problem. Second, and more germane here, if he's setting timelines before the mission starts, how committed to victory can he be? It's his lack of commitment to victory that you will see Conservatives hammer at ad nauseum.
On a political level, this Afghan policy is a disaster. He gave everyone a little to like and something to hate much more. Sure, the liberals love the idea of a timeline for withdrawal, but they want to do it now. They hate the escalation much more than a timeline they know he won't follow anyway. Sure, the conservatives love that Obama decided to largely go with the McChrystal/Petraeus counter insurgency strategy, but they don't believe he's committed to winning. Without that commitment, the conservatives don't feel any strategy would work.
So, what you're going to see is a steady stream of criticism from all sides on a range of issues on Afghanistan and given that he wants to pass health care, such a blazing criticism only makes that even harder.
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