I have talked with soldiers from Afghanistan -- both American and British, both in the ranks and field-grade officers -- in an effort at making sense of what we are doing there. The White House and Pentagon publicly say they are reassessing policy in Afghanistan. It is well that they should. So far, both means and goals are confused.
The initial phase of the war, which started Oct. 7, 2001, had a clear and necessary purpose: to destroy the Taliban regime that gave succor to those who attacked us Sept. 11. That promptly was accomplished in a shrewdly designed operation that combined a light American presence with a maximum effort at working with local and regional forces hostile to the regime. However, as the Taliban continue the fight (with their Pakistan redoubts), short of permanent American occupation, what is our plan?
In a partially public, partially hush-hush review of policy between the administration and the new commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander has said the Taliban has gained the upper hand, extended their fighting to formerly stable areas and increased their technological sophistication. The general has said publicly that he still is considering a request for more troops -- above the current number, 68,000 American troops -- which itself reflects the earlier administration decision to increase troop levels by 21,000 military souls.
Gen. McChrystal also has said publicly already that he would almost double the size of the Afghan military and police. According to The Wall Street Journal, the Afghan army would increase from 135,000 to 240,000, and the police would increase from 82,000 to 160,000. That alone implies a substantial increase in American troop levels -- both to train all those new Afghans and to lead and support them in heightened levels of fighting -- which, the general says, is necessary.
But last week, the general was called to a previously unscheduled private meeting in Belgium with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, after which it was announced that McChrystal's new war plans would be postponed.
Blankley, who had been suffering from stomach cancer, died Saturday night at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, his wife, Lynda Davis, said Sunday.
In his long career as a political operative and pundit, his most visible role was as a spokesman for and adviser to Gingrich from 1990 to 1997. Gingrich became House Speaker when Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives following the 1994 midterm elections.