Austin Bay

President Barack Obama's "new" approach to Afghanistan is a surge in sheep's clothing.

Robert Gibbs' woolly explanation prior to Obama's speech is illustrative: "What the president will announce is an acceleration of our targeting of al-Qaida and its allies."

Gibbs served PR piffle for retreat-wing Democrats in Congress, a sound-bite fairy tale intended to calm the defeatist impulse that insistently infects the left of Obama's party.

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The president's speech continued that triangulation, adding benchmarks for Afghan security forces and cautioning that America's commitment is not open-ended. Essentially, Obama gave the Afghanis (and the Taliban) a time line, "by the end of 2011," the president said, or (implied) America leaves.

Warning to President Obama. War rarely conforms to a politician's druthers, and insurgencies never do -- even when defeated insurgencies fade, with violent codas.

The battlefield bottom line remains U.S. Afghanistan commander Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal will receive a solid chunk of the additional troops he asked for months ago. The Obama administration believes it has secured increased troop commitment from allies. If these contingents appear on the battlefield, well-equipped and deployed with rules of engagement that allow them to take offensive combat action against the Taliban, then the administration will deserve a kudo.

Will the fight against al-Qaida accelerate, as advertised?

Pakistan's current counter-Taliban offensive provides an extraordinary opportunity, politically and militarily. The November 2008 Mumbai attack by Islamist terrorists exposed Pakistan's smoldering civil war. After Mumbai, India presented Pakistani modernists with a choice: end the threat posed by your fanatics, or we will end it, on our terms. This fall, the Pakistani Army has taken the war deep into Pakistani Taliban sanctuaries. This potentially places the Pakistani and Afghani wings of the Taliban between two grindstones -- Pakistan's army to the south, NATO to the north.

Did McChrystal see this coming? I think it likely, since CENTCOM has been pushing for similar offensive action at least since 2002. If Obama had complied when McChrystal requested reinforcements, NATO would be at least a couple of brigades stronger. But Obama delayed his surge.

Yes, self-rusting irony pervades an Obama surge. Sen. Obama declared the Bush administration's Iraq surge a failure and added various accusations of malfeasance, subterfuge and incompetence.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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