Monday, September 28, 2009

The Afghan Test for Obama: Competence as the Supreme Commander and Relations with Allies

Currently, Afghanistan is in a critical condition, and the Obama administration needs to make a vital decision whether to accept the recommendation by Army General Stanley McChrystal who heads the coalition forces in Afghanistan. During the election, Barack Obama insisted that the focus of the War on Terror be shifted from Iraq to Afghanistan. He even mentioned early withdrawal of troops from Iraq and send them to Afghanistan, instead. Therefore, it is vital for the Obama administration to turn the mission in Afghanistan toward a successful direction. As the Afghan operations are more multinational than Iraq, President Obama’ s decision will have insignificant impacts on security policies of NATO allies. Also, newly elected Hatoyama administration of Japan needs to understand Washington’s response to the McChrystal Assessment, in order to reset the US-Japanese alliance into an equal partnership.

In view of rampant attacks by insurgents and some alleged frauds in the presidential election on August 20, General McChrystal has submitted the Initial Strategic Assessment to President Obama via Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. As shown in the above video, President Barack Obama is not so generously accepting recommendations by generals, unlike former President George W. Bush. In the report, McChrystal stresses that the coalition forces gain support of the people, instead of simply killing enemies. He says, Progress is hindered by the dual threat of a resilient insurgency and a crisis of confidence in the government and international coalition. To win their support, we must protect the people from both of these threats (p.5 ~ 6). In addition, he quotes a comment by Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Wardak that Afghan people have never seen the US and NATO forces as occupiers. This is completely different from the case of Soviet invasion (p.8). Most of the media fail to mention this crucial comment.

Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, and General David Petraeus, Head of the US Central Command, expressed their endorsement to the McChrystal Assessment (“McChrystal Request to Reach Pentagon by End of the Week”; Washington Post; September 24, 2009). In order to push further surge in Afghanistan, Admiral Mullen talked with General McChrystal, General Petraeus, and Admiral James Stavridis, Supreme Commander of NATO, at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. At the Hill, Senator John McCain urged the Obama administration to send additional troops as soon as possible (“U.S. Military Leaders Discuss Troop Needs for Afghanistan”; Washington Post; September 26, 2009). Despite strong demands by top leaders of the US Armed Forces, President Obama is still reviewing the assessment. The second assessment will be sent to the President in early October (“Top general in Afghanistan asks Pentagon for more troops”; Los Angels Times; September 26, 2009). Within the Obama administration, Vice President Joseph Biden, Chief if Staff Rahm Emanuel, and national Security Advisor James Jones advocates an alternative strategy to troop build up, while Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke endorse the McChrystal Assessment (“Plan to Boost Afghan Forces Splits Obama Advisers”; New York Times; September 26, 2009).

Meanwhile, in the second report handed to Admiral Mullen and other attendants at the Ramstein meeting, General McChrystal gives an option of additional troop level from 30,000 to 40,000. Republicans urge quick decision to send troops (“U.S. commander offers troop options for Afghanistan”; Reuters; September 28, 2009).

The Afghan War is a real test for President Obama as the Commander in Chief. During the election, the majority of armed forces personnel were concerned with his competence in this field, as I stated in a previous post.

Also, the Obama administration’s decision will have significant influence on European allies. Thomas Valasek at the Centre for European Reform points out that European forces will withdraw, if Obama does not send further troops (“ANALYSIS - Obama's Afghan troop response is key for Europeans”; Reuters India; September 23, 2009). Barack Obama needs to show his dedication to the victory of free nations of the world. The most important message in the McChrystal Assessment is the protection of civil life and Afghan trust to the allied forces. Read the report again and again, and then, take necessary measures immediately, as the Bush administration did in Iraq.