Holbrooke didn't fare much better in Kabul, where he acceded to Afghan demands for "coordinating all military operations with Afghan forces." On Sunday, he and Karzai held a testy joint news conference. Afterward, Holbrooke apparently convinced someone at the White House that the two presidents needed to have a little chat -- something that, strangely enough, there just hadn't been time for since the inaugural.
If the various spokesmen are telling the truth, the Obama-Karzai conversation finally came Tuesday, after Obama issued his one-page deployment order. The next day, Karzai, who is running for re-election in August, said, "If foreign troops do not listen to us, we will call a (grand council), and we will also include the Taliban to decide whether foreign troops should stay in Afghanistan."
While none of this sounds particularly encouraging, it must be noted that Karzai also said, "The tension the Afghan government had with the U.S. government is now over." That should make everyone feel better.
Unfortunately, timing and diplomacy aren't the only problems with this deployment announcement. There is also the matter of what's in it and what's not. Last year, Gen. David McKiernan asked for 30,000 additional combat troops to reinforce the 49,000 from NATO and the 32,000 U.S. personnel he has on the ground. But that's not what he's getting.
Tuesday's presidential order authorized sending 17,000 troops. Yet the Pentagon only identified the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, which has "approximately 8,000 Marines" and is due to deploy in late spring 2009, and the 5th Stryker Brigade, which has "approximately 4,000 soldiers" and is due to deploy in midsummer 2009. It then adds, "Approximately 5,000 additional troops to support these combat forces will receive deployment orders at a later date." In short, Gen. McKiernan is getting less than half of what he asked for.
Finally, there is the issue of presidential style. In the final paragraph of his one-page order, Mr. Obama notes, "This increase is necessary to stabilize a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan." All true. But then he goes on to whine, "Which has not received the strategic attention, direction and resources it urgently requires." That is a gratuitous and unseemly swipe at his predecessor. Perhaps that is why Mr. Obama decided this has to be a stealth surge.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.
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