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Competing Philosophies Emerge in Review of Afghan Strategy

November 12, 2009 at 12:00 AM EST
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President Obama has ordered his top advisers to revise the Afghan war options they presented him. That word came after the top U.S. diplomat in Afghanistan warned against sending large new numbers of troops. Judy Woodruff talks to a reporter for more.
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JIM LEHRER: President Obama has ordered his top advisers to revise the Afghan war options they presented him. That word came today after the top U.S. diplomat in Afghanistan warned against sending large new numbers of troops.

Judy Woodruff has our lead story report.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The president’s call for new troop options came with 68,000 Americans already on the ground and calls for 40,000 more from commanding General Stanley McChrystal. But the U.S. ambassador, retired Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry, reportedly has strongly advised against major new deployments until the Afghan government confronts widespread corruption.

Reports of classified cables sent from Eikenberry to President Obama were splashed across the front pages of major newspapers today. The ambassador’s advice seemed to be reflected in a White House statement issued last night.

It read — quote — “After years of substantial investments by the American people, governance in Afghanistan must improve in a reasonable period of time” — end quote.

News accounts said four proposals were on the table Thursday, as the president met again with his national security team. Today, however, Defense Secretary Robert Gates confirmed that Mr. Obama wanted something different.

One option was to add 30,000 or more troops to take on the Taliban in targeted key areas. The other three ranged from a small influx of forces to the 40,000 General McChrystal has asked for. The events in the U.S. could add to the pressure on Afghan President Hamid Karzai, after his default reelection earlier this month.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton underscored that point today during a stop in the Philippines.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. Secretary of State: We’re looking to President Karzai, as he forms a new government, to take action that will demonstrate, not to the international community, but, first and foremost, to his own people, that his second term will respond to the needs that are so manifest.

And I think that the corruption issue really goes to the heart of whether the people of Afghanistan feel that the government is on their side, is working for them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, in London, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen echoed the need for building trust in the Afghan government.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN, secretary-general, NATO: We need what I would call a new contract between the international community and the government in Kabul, with the aim to provide good governance in — in Afghanistan, so that the Afghan people can trust their government.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Rasmussen said NATO members are willing to pledge more forces to the fight, but with conditions. In particular, Britain has now said that it will add 500 troops if the corruption issue is resolved.

And for more on where things stand with the Obama administration’s Afghanistan review, we turn to “Washington Post” Pentagon reporter Greg Jaffe. He’s also — also the author of the recent book “The Fourth Star: Four Generals and the Epic Struggle for the Future of the United States Army.”

Greg Jaffe, thank you for being with us.

GREG JAFFE, “The Washington Post”: Thanks.

Weighing the issue of corruption

Hillary Clinton
Secretary of State
I think that the corruption issue really goes to the heart of whether the people of Afghanistan feel that the government is on their side, is working for them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Why are all these recommendations on Afghanistan being made public? Is this what the administration wants?

GREG JAFFE: I think it's probably the last thing that they want right now. But it's been a long, drawn-out process. It's a huge decision for this president and this administration, somewhat of a contentious process. I think there are strong feelings on both sides, in terms of how many troops you should send, how long they should be there, what they should be doing.

So, it's just one of these natural kind of things that tends to happen in Washington. When you have competing bureaucracies, competing priorities, you tend to get a lot of leaks.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, it really is as messy as, I don't know -- what adjective would you use? How would you describe the process?

GREG JAFFE: You know, it is certainly complicated. It has certainly gone on for a while. I don't know if messy is the right one to use.

I mean, they do seem to be moving towards a decision. They do seem to be trying to systemically attack the problem. I think the first time President Obama made a decision to send more troops to Afghanistan, he was focused on the economy; he was focused on a lot of other issues.

This was in the spring. Now I think kind of everybody seems to be really kind of bearing in on this in an important and interesting way.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You write today in "The Washington Post" about this Eikenberry -- Ambassador Eikenberry's memo. Why is he weighing in at this point in the process, well into the decision-making process?

GREG JAFFE: Yes, and it's not entirely clear to me. You know, it's not clear that the White House asked for it, or whether he submitted it on his own.

He's clearly had an option to speak up and he's had an opportunity to speak up. He's been involved in all the meetings. I think he just wanted -- you know, it's a huge decision. It's a lot -- astronomical costs are associated with this. We are talking billions of dollars over several years, lots of lives associated with it.

And I think, you know, he's a former general himself, a three-star general, retired. I think he understands how important and life-and-death these things are, and felt compelled to weigh in, in writing.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And just amplify for us, what exactly is he -- why is he so concerned about sending troops, until the Karzai government works on the corruption problem?

GREG JAFFE: Well, I mean, I think, if it looks like we're surging troops in support of a corrupt government that the Afghans don't see as a productive partner, as a government that's building a better Afghanistan, we're sort of complicit in that corruption.

And I think, you know, unless we have got a credible partner that sees the world the same way we -- not exactly the same way -- unless we have got a credible partner, no amount of troops is going to be enough.

Decision 'weighing' on Obama

Greg Jaffe
Washington Post
You can see in the things that he's done lately, going to Dover, going out to Fort Hood, where he gave a very moving speech, that this is really a decision that weighs on him.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you the current commanding general in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, asking for 40,000 troops, as best we know. And then you have the former commanding general in Afghanistan saying no, wait.

Is that surprising that there is a divide like that?

GREG JAFFE: Yes, I think a little bit surprising.

I mean, I think it reflects a sort of different philosophy of how you fight a counterinsurgency. I think General McChrystal is very much of the Petraeus school, that, look, you have got to establish security. Once you have established security, and people feel safer, they begin to make more rational decisions.

I think General Eikenberry -- or Ambassador Eikenberry is a little more concerned that you create a sort of culture of dependency if you have got a lot of troops in there, that it hinders the Afghan government, the Afghan army, the Afghan police force from taking on problems on their own because they have got a large U.S. force there.

So, it's competing philosophies.

Options under consideration

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, with Secretary Gates saying today that the president essentially said, "I want you to revise whatever options" he already had, there really is an ever-growing list of options in front of the president? Is that -- is that an accurate picture?

GREG JAFFE: Yes, I don't think we will get significantly different military options, in terms of troop numbers. I mean, there's only so many ways you can kind of slice this thing.

I do think, based on what Secretary Gates said today, that they want to communicate resolve. And one way you do that is adding more troops. I think they also want to communicate to the Afghan government and to the U.S. that, hey, our commitment is not forever, that -- that this is a -- we have got a finite amount of patience; we have got a finite amount of resources that we are willing to devote here.

So, I think, you know, they want something that both signals resolve, but also doesn't make it sound like we're going to be there indefinitely. So, it is a very tricky thing. I don't know how you do those two things at the same time.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, how much is absolutely known right now, Greg Jaffe, in terms of what the president is likely to do?

GREG JAFFE: You know, at the end of the day, this is the president's decision. And we can speculate, and we can talk to people around him, but you can see in the -- in the things that he's done lately, going to Dover, going out to Fort Hood, where he gave a very moving speech, that this is really a decision that weighs on him. When you're sending...

JUDY WOODRUFF: And in Arlington Cemetery yesterday at Veterans Day.

GREG JAFFE: Absolutely. Absolutely.

And it is the most important decision that a president can make. You know, he's committing the lives of young men and women, billions of dollars. And, so, ultimately, it is his decision. And where he comes down, I think, only he really knows.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, he's just taken off today for an eight-day-trip to Asia. What -- what do you know at this point about the process going forward and when we can look for a decision?

GREG JAFFE: You know, the Pentagon seems to be thinking that something is going to be coming fairly soon, that they are reaching the end of the process.

I mean, it's unthinkable, I think, right now that they will make any announcements before he gets back from Asia. I think they realize that this a huge decision, an emotional decision, both for the administration and even more so for the country. And it -- when they announce it, they want to have time to sort of roll it out properly.

They want to have people out explaining what it is they are doing and why they are doing it and why they think it makes sense.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Greg Jaffe of "The Washington Post," thanks very much.

GREG JAFFE: Thanks.