Thursday, November 12, 2009

Daily leaks turning Obama's Afghanistan strategy review into an embarassing farce

President Obama meets with his badly leaking "war council"

Another day, another set of embarrassing -- and potentially dangerous -- leaks from President Obama's ongoing review of U.S. Afghanistan war strategy.

Today's unbelievable "leak" -- actually more of torrent of presumably sensitive national security information -- features the appearance two and a half months into this process of apparent objections to any increase in U.S. troops from the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan and former top U.S. military commander there, Gen. Karl Eikenberry. This story, served up by "three [unnamed] senior American officials," also includes a characterization of what questions Obama asked at a meeting of his top national security team and a supposed insight into the President's thinking:

Mr. Obama asked General Eikenberry about his concerns during the meeting on Wednesday, officials said, and raised questions about each of the four military options and how they might be tinkered with or changed. A central focus of Mr. Obama’s questions, officials said, was how long it would take to see results and be able to withdraw.

“He wants to know where the off-ramps are,” one official said.

The president pushed for revisions in the options to clarify how — and when — American troops would turn over responsibility to the Afghan government. He raised questions, officials said, about the exit strategy for American troops and sought to make clear that the commitment by the United States would not be open-ended.
No one can or should second guess the President on how he makes a fateful decision on war policy or what tough questions he puts to his advisers. He is also entitled to take as much time as he deems necessary, within reason, to reach a conclusion. And Obama would be foolish if he did not evaluate policy choices with an eye to the length of the U.S. commitment and the outlook for bringing it to a successful conclusion under various scenarios.

But the details of this process don't belong in the newspapers! In particular, his looking for the "off-ramps" isn't something that ought to be discussed in public, lest it encourage the Taliban, discourage NATO, Afghan and Pakistani allies, move friendly Afghans to sidle up to the Taliban, and affect the morale of American fighting forces.

This is really elementary. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates understands this, and it's why he's getting really angry about the leaks:

“I have been appalled by the amount of leaking that has been going on in this process,’’ Mr. Gates told reporters en route to a Wisconsin factory that is churning out thousands of armored trucks manufactured specifically for the rough terrain of Afghanistan.

“I think a lot of different places are leaking,” he said. “I’m confident that the Department of Defense is one of them.To have details or options that are being considered out there in the middle of the president’s deliberative process I think does not serve the country and it does not serve our military.’’

Mr. Gates then added a threat.

“And frankly if I found out with high confidence anybody who was leaking in the Department of Defense, who that was, that would probably be a career-ender,’’ he said.
Let's hope his message is taken seriously by the other people around that big table in the White House Situation Room.

The trouble is that Gates' authority does not extend to most of them. Only the President can tell everyone to shut up, as he should without further delay. This drawn-out process -- accompanied by leaks that tell us one day that Obama is close to a decision to send 30,000 troops and tell us the next that he's a long way from a decision and may not send any more troops -- has become a farce. It gives the impression of an Administration wracked by conflict and a lack of resolution and seriousness. It's embarrassing to the nation, the Administration and the President himself. Even worse, it could be dangerous, since whatever Obama final decides to do, American strategy will be subject to endless questioning based on these weeks of news reports, regardless of whether any of them are accurate.

President Obama must impose discipline on his own house -- now, without further delay.

What do you think" Post a comment.

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