Civil air surrounds Afghan war strategy debate at White House

October 7, 2009

To hear spokesman Robert Gibbs describe it, President Barack Obama’s White House is a mighty civil place to work.

Even when formulating Afghan war strategy, for instance, the president, his generals and his advisers do not argue. Or apparently even forcefully state their views.

This despite their known differences in position, with Afghan war commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal seeking up to 40,000 more troops and Vice President Joe Biden wanting to maintain current troop levels while intensifying attacks on al Qaeda.


The president held one of a series of war strategy sessions Wednesday at the White House.

Asked beforehand whether the different advisers were likely to argue their specific points of view, spokesman Robert Gibbs expressed surprise at the suggestion.

“You know, this may not be good TV, but there really weren’t any arguments in the last three-hour meeting,” he told a briefing. “There was a larger discussion of where we are and what we need to do going forward. So I — I can’t predict who’s going to yell at who…”

“I’m not talking about yelling,” the questioner said, but “forcefully stating.” For example, they way McChrystal did when he spoke publicly in London in favor of troop increases.

Gibbs said he expected “firm analysis” rather than any forceful stating.

And what was Obama’s role at these sessions? Did he sit quietly acting as a sort of judge and jury while the advisers presented their arguments?

“I think you’re thinking of that great movie version of Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ Gibbs responded. “But … I don’t quite see the movie setting that you’ve described.”

During the last strategy session, he said, “nobody raised their voice … there was just a sort of calm discussion about where we are.”

For more Reuters political news, click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Jim Young (Obama at a White House event Wednesday)


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Great information thanks for sharing this with us.In fact in all posts of this blog their is something to learn.

Posted by oes tsetnoc | Report as abusive

It is obvious that they do not know what to do.One solution would be to listen to what Joe Biden has to say and then go in the opposite direction.Joe has never been right on anything,his solution in 1raq,divide the country into three different nations was definitely a brain stormer.

Posted by brian lee | Report as abusive

There are intense Afghan War consultations at home because the specter of the Vietnam War in General McChrystal’s 10-year strategy for Afghanistan is wafting in the air. Facts: Lyndon Johnson said in 1964 that
“if the North Vietnamese and VietCong refuse to negotiate [on U.S. terms], they will be beaten in the battlefield.” 2009 replay: Baraq Obama said that “the U.S. will stay in Afghanistan until it defeats Al Qaeda and its allies.” General Westmorland kept asking for more and more U.S. troops for Vietnam to defeat the communists until the U.S. has amassed 500.000 troops there. But even with one half million U.S. troops, and an additional 600.000 South Vietnamese, we lost the war. Replay 2009: General McChrystal is asking for more troops for his 10-year Afghan plan, and he would probably keep asking for more and more in the next 10 years -like Westmorland. And there is a plan to increase the Afghan army to 300.000. But in the end, the war
in Afghanistan will end like the war in Vietnam, because, as the Vietnam era Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara admitted later: “We were blind; we never thought we could lose that war!”

2009 Afghan question: If 8 years of fighting the ragtag Taliban has us in a quagmire, what would guarantee
us a victory in 10 years? After all, the Taliban have become more sophisticated; have adopted Iraq’s lessons
of effective insurgent tactics, and have learned to adopt fast, and change tactics when the U.S. changes its
tactics. And more U.S. troops for Afghanistan will mean more Muslim sympathy for the Taliban, more financial support and funding, and more Muslim volunteers to join in to offset the occupier’s higher numbers. All Muslims everywhere are dead set against the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan and the thousands of civilian casualties caused by U.S. air strikes, and they certainly don’t want to see the “Great Satan” taking over the lives of other Muslims under any pretext, like Al Qaeda threats, etc. More troops, therefore, will increase
the intensity of the war, but it won’t bring victory to the U.S. because 30 million Pashtun in Afghanistan, and their brethren in Pakistan have already made up their minds that they will never live as U.S. vassals.

Now, behind the facade of Al Qaeda threat from Afghanistan lies the clear truth, that is: We keep fighting in Afghanistan because leaving without achieving anything will saddle us with another “Vietnam Syndrome.” Should we then continue the war for another 10 years for a chance to avoid it? There is no chance that we will ever avoid an “Afghan Syndrome” because the Afghans will keep fighting for 10,20, or 30 years – or until the Christian occupiers are out. The only thing we need now for Afghanistan, then, is “a face saving way out!” General James Jones CNN interview, therefore, represents the reality of the facts in the Afghan conflict, while General McChrystal’s 10-year plan represent the failed model of General Westmorland’s plan for Vietnam. And history will repeat itself in Afghanistan if those in charge of the Afghan war repeat the errors of the past.
Nikos Retsos, retired professor

Posted by Nikos Retsos | Report as abusive

There seems to be a tried and true solution in the works. Give up the countryside and protect the population centers. This is what we did in Vietnam when we realized that the fight wasnt going our way. This tried and true solution lost Vietnam. It will as surely lose Afghanistan.

Posted by Bonkers | Report as abusive

The US might have the wrong strategy in Afghanistan. A modern functional democracy there is probably not realistic for a century. We might be a lot better off pulling out most our troops and letting the government go down, while supporting strongmen and groups with financial aid and special military support (like airpower). Supporting military strongmen in the 3rd world might not be politically correct, but it works, the present policy doesn’t. I’m not happy saying this.

Posted by Bernie Goetz | Report as abusive

What to do in Afghanistan is a difficult decision. There is no good answer.

Posted by Bernie Goetz | Report as abusive

Now is a great opportunity to use US surveillance technology (drones and satellites) to assist the Pakistan military in locating Taliban troops in Waziristan.

Posted by BG | Report as abusive

We probably have no choice but to defeat the Taliban. Opium and democracy are secondary issues.

Posted by BG | Report as abusive

Another thought. Maybe we should just pull out of Iraq and let there be a civil war to clear the deck. If the Middle East gets engulfed in war, the most dramatic change might be Iranian control of Mecca, which could be a big improvement. The Sunnis are behind terrorism in Iraq, the Taliban, and world terrorism. Shiites controlling the Middle East could be a big improvement and make things easier for the rest of the world.

Posted by BG | Report as abusive

Sorry for frequent posting. The upcoming election in Afghanistan is not viewed enthusiastically, nor should it be. Iraq and Afghanistan could be solved by a complete Iraq troop withdrawal. Ultimately Mecca religious leaders should represent worldwide Muslims.

Posted by BG | Report as abusive