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But where would the additional troops come from, and what would they be able to do that is not already being done?
For those old enough to remember a similar stage in the "counterinsurgency" operation in Vietnam, the ramrod image of Petraeus evokes shivers. He resembles much too closely the American commander in Vietnam, the late Gen. William Westmoreland, an equally handsome gent decked out with all manner of ribbons and medals with which to dazzle Congress in a way that President Lyndon Johnson could not.
A lawsuit after the Vietnam War proved that Westmoreland deliberately misled Congress by insisting that there were only half as many Vietnamese Communists under arms as his intelligence analysts knew there were.His hallmark was an insatiable need for more and more troops. Westmoreland's periodic appeals for further escalation built U.S. forces up to 536,000--as he ploddingly pursued the light at the end of the tunnel.
Finally, in March 1968, President Johnson convened a group of more sober and honest advisers, who told him Vietnam was a fool's errand. Johnson finally said "no" to Westmoreland's request for a 206,000-troop escalation, but it was too late. Johnson wound up forfeiting the presidency as well as the war, opening the door to Richard Nixon and all that followed.
In his multiplemea culpas(that came far too late), Johnson's Defense Secretary Robert McNamara bemoaned the fact that as many as three million Vietnamese were killed, as well as over 58,000 American troops. But during his tenure as secretary of defense, McNamara acted as though he were tone deaf.And his current successor, Robert Gates, seems equally hard of hearing, though he is old enough to remember the hit song of the time, "When will they ever learn?"
Rock and Hard Place
Obama's main dilemma will be how to say "no" when, as seems inevitable, Westmoreland -- sorry, Petraeus -- makes requests for more "surges" of troops into Afghanistan.
The dynamic of the occupation and feckless forays such as those against Marja suggest the following scenario: Late this year or early next, Petraeus is likely to warn Obama that, if the general does not get the additional forces he needs, he will go the way of McChrystal and invite removal.Petraeus would slide in a subtle but clear intimation that he might challenge Obama for president in 2012.
In that case, Secretary of State Clinton is likely to insist on giving Petraeus whatever he says he needs.Gates would bow to the prevailing winds, and Obama's political advisers would probably advocate sending more troops from wherever they can be scrounged up.
Casualties would rise exponentially; there would never be enough troops; most of those NATO allies that have not already withdrawn their troops would do so. The remaining "coalition forces" would not "prevail" (whatever that means).
Such escalation would not be likely to help, and by the end of 2011, the Teflon, ribbon-bedecked Petraeus might well quit anyway and join McChrystal in blaming the carnage on the "clowns" around President Obama.W might well end up with either a President Petraeus or another President Clinton in the person of Obama's hawkish Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Clinton is the only, the only official who is praised by McChrystal's wild-boy crew, because she favored giving the general whatever troops he wanted. A Chrystal aide is quoted as saying, "She said, "If Stan wants it, give him what he needs.'"For Petraeus, it is a safe bet she would say the same thing.
Is it possible that Obama can be blissfully unaware of the dangerous political kill zone into which he has maneuvered his presidency (not to mention the kinetic kill zone into which he has sent U.S. troops)?
The tragedy is that this is totally unnecessary. If President Obama could get beyond ill-conceived short-term political considerations, he already has available some well-reasoned guidance as to how to extricate the United States from the Afghanistan morass.
He got solid advice last fall from retired Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, his ambassador in Kabul, who knows more about Afghanistan than Petraeus, McChrystal, Gates, Clinton, and special envoy Richard Holbrooke do, put together.
Eikenberry served three years in Afghanistan over the course of two separate tours of duty.During 2002-2003 he was responsible for rebuilding Afghan security forces.He then served 18 months (2005-2007) as commander of all U.S. forces stationed in the country.