If nothing up to this point convinced people of the amateurish and bungling nature of Barack Obama and his administration, this Washington Post story makes the case all by itself. For two years, Obama campaigned on changing the strategy in Afghanistan to a more effective counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy, claiming that the Bush administration had dropped the ball in the Af-Pak theater in large part by not committing the resources needed for an effective battle plan (an assessment shared by John McCain). On taking office, Obama quickly increased troop levels in Afghanistan and appointed COIN strategist Gen. Stanley McChrystal to lead the mission.
However, the Post reports that Obama and his team never understood the implications of his demand for the new strategy. McChrystal’s assessment of the needs for his COIN plan sent them into “sticker shock,” according to one Post source in the White House (emphasis mine):
In early March, after weeks of debate across a conference table in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, the participants in President Obama’s strategic review of the war in Afghanistan figured that the most contentious part of their discussions was behind them. Everyone, save Vice President Biden’s national security adviser, agreed that the United States needed to mount a comprehensive counterinsurgency mission to defeat the Taliban.
That conclusion, which was later endorsed by the president and members of his national security team, would become the first in a set of recommendations contained in an administration white paper outlining what Obama called “a comprehensive, new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.” Preventing al-Qaeda’s return to Afghanistan, the document stated, would require “executing and resourcing an integrated civilian-military counterinsurgency strategy.” …
To some civilians who participated in the strategic review, that conclusion was much less clear. Some took it as inevitable that more troops would be needed, but others thought the thrust of the new approach was to send over scores more diplomats and reconstruction experts. They figured a counterinsurgency mission could be accomplished with the forces already in the country, plus the 17,000 new troops Obama had authorized in February.
“It was easy to say, ‘Hey, I support COIN,’ because nobody had done the assessment of what it would really take, and nobody had thought through whether we want to do what it takes,” said one senior civilian administration official who participated in the review, using the shorthand for counterinsurgency.
The failure to reach a shared understanding of the resources required to execute the strategy has complicated the White House’s response to the grim assessment of the war by the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, forcing the president to decide, in effect, what his administration really meant when it endorsed a counterinsurgency plan. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s follow-up request for more forces, which presents a range of options but makes clear that the best chance of achieving the administration’s goals requires an additional 40,000 U.S. troops on top of the 68,000 who are already there, has given senior members of Obama’s national security team “a case of sticker shock,” the administration official said.
After two years of campaigning on this new strategy and eight months of ordering it as Commander in Chief, Barack Obama now has to make up his mind what he meant? It was the single most important issue on the war during the general campaign, thanks to the sharp improvement in Iraq that Obama predicted would never happen. He had hundreds of military officers and foreign-policy experts advising him on this issue — and none of them apparently ever taught the young candidate what COIN actually entailed.
This is a damning indictment of the President and his lack of preparation for the job, but it goes farther than that. Obama has essentially been “on the job” since the transition, which started eleven months ago. Considering the priority of any policy that puts American men and women in battle, Obama should have worked to understand the implications of his COIN solution from Day 1 in the transition, if not Day 1 of his term in office. He appointed McChrystal for this specific purpose in the spring without bothering to understand the concepts and the resources required for COIN.
In other words, Obama has half-assed it, and has gotten caught.
Update: Michael Yon links to an intriguing report from Anthony Lloyd from Afghanistan. Don’t forget to hit Michael’s tip jar. We’re going to need him on the ground more than ever.