Jackson Diehl notes some worrying signs from Afghanistan in his Washington Post column today. He runs down a number of political setbacks — which, in a counterinsurgency where gaining allies is as important as killing enemies, are no different than battlefield setbacks. One key problem is the timeline factor:
Hanging over all these complexities, and driving some of them, is Obama’s imposition of a timeline on the Afghan surge: first a review of its progress this December, followed by the beginning of troop withdrawals in July 2011. The perception that the clock is ticking on the U.S. mission pushes Karzai toward building and defending his own family network, and favoring aides who can talk to Pakistan — and maybe the Taliban — over those close to the United States. It forces McChrystal to focus on producing easier and positive-looking results in the next few months, rather than committing to harder and longer-term solutions. It fuels continuing acrimony among military commanders, who believe the timetable is folly, and State Department and White House civilians, who regard it as the key to Obama’s policy.
The real eye-opener, though, is how the mission is being hamstrung by the lack of support from allies. The problems he cites include
the revelation by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, at a NATO conference in Brussels, that the alliance is still short of 450 trainers for the vital mission of expanding the Afghan army — without which there will be no exit strategy…
[D]isabilities that have hobbled Obama’s surge all along not only remain unfixed but seem to be getting worse. One is the failure of European governments to follow through on pledges to contribute in crucial areas such as training. Gates also said that McChrystal hadn’t figured out how to replace Canadian and Dutch combat troops that are withdrawing from Afghanistan this summer.
Recall that President Obama was supposed to repair relations with the world that were (allegedly) in such terrible shape after the Bush years. But his administration has failed to build the relationships with friendly foreign governments that are crucial to conducting foreign policy. That the US government is unable to convince allies of the rather obvious point that building Afghanistan into something other than a safe-haven for violent Islamic extremists is as much in their interest as it is in ours is a damning indictment of the Obama administration’s diplomatic posture.
This President has often acted as if American hegemony is to be maintained only reluctantly and apologetically, which has certainly won him fans in the chic coteries of trans-national progressivism (witness the Nobel Peace Prize he received for doing basically nothing at all) — but has done little, if anything, to advance the national security interests of the United States. We can only hope that Obama’s diplomatic failures don’t lead to defeat in what, as of last week, is the longest-running war in American history.