(Informed Comment, November 13, 2009)
News that the US ambassador to Kabul, Karl Eikenberry, has sent classified messages to Washington in the last few days, advising President Obama not to send more troops to Afghanistan, is dramatic both in its timing and substance. It came just as Obama was to hold further deliberations with his advisers on a new strategy for what is now described in Washington as the AfPak front. The substance of Eikenberry’s advice went directly against the plan the military commander in Afghanistan, General McChrystal, has been pushing for in recent months. Eikenberry’s intervention is highly significant. A Harvard and Stanford-educated general, he had served in Afghanistan twice before retiring and was immediately appointed America’s envoy in that country in April 2009. He has strong military credentials and President Obama’s ear–an effective counter to the Pentagon lobbying for ever-increasing military commitment to the war.
The contrary advice from Eikenberry may have annoyed General McChrystal. But it represents an established pattern by now: well orchestrated media reports originating from advocates of greater American involvement before every new strategy session, apparently intended to bounce the president into sending more troops; and President Obama finding a way to resist that pressure. Whatever criticisms are leveled against Obama over his perceived hesitation or dithering, these maneuvers within the administration point to his dilemmas at this juncture. For unlike George W Bush, an instinctive demolisher, Obama is a man of intellect, averse to war and more in tune with history. More