Charles Krauthammer

This was the considered judgment of our commanders at the time, most especially Centcom commander (2003-2007) Gen. John Abizaid. And Abizaid was no stranger to the territory. He speaks Arabic and is a scholar of the region. The overriding idea was that the light footprint would minimize local opposition.

It was a perfectly reasonable assumption, but it proved wrong. The strategy failed. Not just because the enemy proved highly resilient but because the allegiance of the population turned out to hinge far less on resentment of foreign intrusiveness (in fact the locals came to hate the insurgents -- al-Qaeda in Iraq, the Taliban in Afghanistan -- far more than us) than on physical insecurity, which made them side with the insurgents out of sheer fear.

What they needed, argued Gen. David Petraeus against much Pentagon brass opposition, was population protection, i.e., a heavy footprint.

In Iraq, the heavy footprint -- also known as the surge -- dramatically reversed the fortunes of war. In Afghanistan, where it took longer for the Taliban to regroup, the failure of the light footprint did not become evident until more recently when an uneasy stalemate began to deteriorate into steady Taliban advances.

That's where we are now in Afghanistan. The logic of a true counterinsurgency strategy there is that whatever resentment a troop surge might occasion pales in comparison with the continued demoralization of any potential anti-Taliban elements unless they receive serious and immediate protection from U.S.-NATO forces.

In other words, Obama is facing the same decision on Afghanistan that Bush faced in late 2006 in deciding to surge in Iraq.

In both places, the deterioration of the military situation was not the result of "drift," but of considered policies that seemed reasonable, cautious and culturally sensitive at the time, but ultimately turned out to be wrong.

Which is evidently what Obama now thinks of the policy choice he made on March 27.

He is to be commended for reconsidering. But it is time he acted like a president and decided. Afghanistan is his. He's used up his envelopes.


Charles Krauthammer

Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.

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