Friday, January 10, 2014

By Robert M. Gates: The Wars of Robert Gates --- On Afghanistan, Obama was caught between his generals' advice and his advisers' political worries -- I had been the secretary of defense for just over two years on Jan. 21, 2009, but on that day I again became the outsider. The Obama administration housed a web of long-standing relationships—from Democratic Party politics and the Clinton administration—about which I was clueless. I was also a geezer in the new administration. Many influential appointees below the top level, especially in the White House, had been undergraduates—or even in high school—when I had been CIA director. No wonder my nickname in the White House soon was Yoda, the ancient Jedi teacher in "Star Wars." -- For the first several months, it took a lot of discipline to sit quietly at the table as everyone from President Obama on down took shots at President Bush and his team. Sitting there, I would often think to myself, Am I invisible? -- During these excoriations, there was never any acknowledgment that I had been an integral part of that earlier team. Discussions in the Situation Room allowed no room for discriminating analysis: Everything was awful, and Obama and his team had arrived just in time to save the day. -- Our discussions soon turned to the war in Afghanistan. My years in the Bush administration had convinced me that creating a strong, democratic, and more or less honest and competent central government in Afghanistan was a fantasy. Our goal, I thought, should be limited to hammering the Taliban and other extremists and to building up the Afghan security forces so they could control the extremists and deny al Qaeda another safe haven in Afghanistan.-- At the Obama administration's first National Security Council meeting on Afghanistan on Jan. 23, 2009, there was much discussion of the lack of a coherent strategy. The Joint Chiefs of Staff had previously asked to send 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan to deal with the Taliban's expected summer offensive and the country's upcoming presidential elections—a request eventually pared back to about 17,000 troops and an additional 4,000 "enablers," troops for countering roadside bombs, ordnance disposal, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and medics. -- This pressure for an early decision on a troop increase had the unfortunate and lasting effect of creating suspicion in the White House that Obama was getting the "bum's rush" from senior military officers—especially the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Michael Mullen, and Gen. David Petraeus, who was then running the U.S. Central Command—to make a big decision prematurely. I believed then—and now—that this distrust was stoked by Vice President Joe Biden, with Deputy National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and some of Obama's other White House advisers joining the chorus. --- A March report on the Afghanistan situation by Bruce Riedel, a seasoned and very capable Middle East expert who had advised the Obama campaign, proved breathtaking in its ambition. It recommended disrupting terrorist networks in Afghanistan and Pakistan, promoting a more effective Afghan government, ending Pakistan's support for terrorist groups and working to reduce enmity between Pakistan and India. Most significantly for the conflicts to come between the White House and the U.S. military, the report called for a "fully-resourced counterinsurgency campaign" to let us "regain the initiative" from the Taliban. -- All of Obama's national security principals—except Biden—agreed with Riedel's recommendations. But the vice president argued that the war was politically unsustainable at home. I thought he was wrong—and that if the president remained steadfast, he could sustain even an unpopular war, as President Bush had done with a far less popular war in Iraq. The key was showing that we were succeeding militarily and that an end was in sight. -- The president embraced most of Riedel's recommendations and announced his new "Af-Pak" strategy in a televised speech on March 27, including 21,000 more soldiers to "take the fight to the Taliban." There would now be some 68,000 American troops in Afghanistan. - More, The Saturday Essay, Wall Street Journal, at:


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