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You’re Never Going to Believe This, But the Kagans Want to Add At Least 40,000 Troops to Afghanistan

The sun rose today and its gravitational force kept the planet twisting around it through the void, so naturally Fred and Kim Kagan, the neoconservative wing of counterinsurgency, have put out a call for between 40,000 and 45,000 additional troops to be sent to Afghanistan in the next year. Both Kagans advised the McChrystal strategy review that leaked yesterday to box President Obama into escalation. But they say — really, really prominently — that they’re not speaking for Gen. Stanley McChrystal or anyone else. Maybe so, but now we have a good idea of who on the review advocated for 40,000 troops, something that fellow adviser Anthony Cordesman recently reported.

It’s difficult to understand how the Kagans think there are 40,000 – 45,000 U.S. troops available for deployment — the Pentagon doesn’t think the Army can deploy a single additional combat brigade to Afghanistan in the next six months — and the report is silent on whether to increase the pace of withdrawal from Iraq (formerly a Kagan no-no); whether to decrease the time in between deployments, which the Army and the Secretary of Defense will resist after having to do it to sustain the 2007 Iraq troop surge; or whether to … I don’t know. They just want the politically treacherous 40,000-45,000 troop increase, and now the GOP will have a troop figure to say Afghanistan requires if Obama doesn’t provide such a ginormous increase. (They also back the consensus call for speeding up the development and deployment of Afghan security forces.)

The Obama administration is not reacting kindly to the leak’s attempted trap. “The impact may be the opposite of the leakers’ intent,” said an official in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. “This will increase the determination of the civilian leadership not to be rushed or pressured.”

In any event, the Kagans actually provide an arguably more realistic *political *strategy than either the McChrystal review or the Obama administration. From the PDF’s strategic framework:

Governance

– Remediate damage that corruption and abuse of power have done to the legitimacy of the Afghan Government

Help and cajole GIRoA [the Afghan government] to emplace systems and procedures to improve

– Help and cajole GIRoA to emplace systems and procedures to improve legitimacy over the next few years

– Improve the capacity of GIRoA at all levels to provide essential services to the Afghan people, especially security, justice, dispute resolution, and basic agricultural and transportation infrastructure agricultural and transportation infrastructure

That gets the United States out of the business of nation-building and back into state-building — supporting institutions rather than replacing them — and they call in for setting up elections in provinces and districts to supercede the ability of the president to appoint them. The strategy is clearly designed to limit the damage from the disputed election. Somewhat surprisingly, the Kagans call for getting admirably ruthless with the Karzai government by suggesting that

The presence of large numbers of American and international forces and the irreplaceable role they currently play in providing security for the Afghan

government and its officials also offer enormous leverage

That’s leverage blunted by the Obama administration’s suggestion (and, to be fair, the Bush administration’s legacy) that the U.S. provide an unconditional commitment to Afghanistan. There is, however, this questionable assertion:

If the US declares that it will not send additional forces because of those

flaws, it is de facto declaring that it regards the election as illegitimate, the

Karzai government as illegitimate, and the Afghan enterprise as unworthy

of additional effort, all of which will seriously exacerbate damage to the

legitimacy of the government within Afghanistan as well as to the will of

the international community to continue the struggle

That’s a series of propositions that just don’t follow from each other. They provide to say that a lack of a second troop increase within a year would undermine Afghan troop morale; and there’s no reason to fear an Afghan sense of occupation or clientism, which are prime concerns of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. And the only people who would make these claims would be the Kagans and the readers of this paper, so it calls into question whether the Kagans have provided a good-faith effort or a set of GOP talking points.

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