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Cordesman vs. Holbrooke/Petraeus, Plus as Many as 40,000 New Troops

Anthony Cordesman, a highly respected defense analyst and adviser to Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s review of Afghanistan strategy, writes an op-ed that has an undercurrent of “McChrystal versus the world” running through it. For instance, there’s this blink-and-you’ll miss it reference, in a section about what it will take for McChrystal and U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry to “succeed” (whatever that means):

[O]nly if they are allowed to manage both the civil and military sides of the conflict without constant micromanagement from Washington or traveling envoys.

I bet the administration’s special envoy, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, doesn’t quite see himself as a micromanager, nor does Holbrooke’s uniformed “wingman,” Gen. David Petraeus of U.S. Central Command. Similarly, Cordesman refers opaquely to “strong elements in the White House, State Department and other agencies” who are “pressuring the president to direct Eikenberry and McChrystal to come to Washington to present a broad set of strategic concepts rather than specific requests for troops, more civilians, money and an integrated civil-military plan for action.” In other words, Cordesman thinks Obama has to escalate in Afghanistan or become “as much a failed wartime president as George W. Bush.” Who are these anti-McChrystal conspirators in the administration? Cordesman doesn’t say.

And how much is the bill for that escalation, at least in terms of troop strength?

[A]lmost every expert on the scene has talked about figures equivalent to three to eight more brigade combat teams — with nominal manning levels that could range from 2,300 to 5,000 personnel each…

That’s a range of 6,900 troops to 40,000, which should say more about the dividedness of expert opinion on the size of a second increase this year than it should about the consensus that some-indeterminate-plus-up is necessary. McChrystal has completed the review — or endorsed a review compiled for him, as adviser Steve Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations explained a few weeks ago — and now it falls to him to decide whether to request a troop increase. Cordesman’s op-ed lays the groundwork to say McChrystal was undermined by interloper pressure if he doesn’t request more troops and that the interlopers are waging a rear-guard effort to fight the request if he does.

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