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Beyond Afghanistan ‘Buyer’s Remorse’

Check out this quote in Julian Barnes’ Los Angeles Times piece on the fallout from the McChrystal strategy review leak:

One defense analyst who regularly advises the military and who spoke on condition of anonymity said the administration was suffering from “buyer’s remorse for this war.”

“They never really thought about what was required, and now they have sticker shock,” the analyst said.

When the president goes out in March and argues that the U.S. needs to adopt a counterinsurgency strategy for Afghanistan to secure the ultimate goal of defeating al-Qaeda in Pakistan, it’s tough to blame the Pentagon, important segments of the State Department, and particularly the commanding general brought in specifically to reorient the Afghanistan war in a counterinsurgency-heavy direction for doing what they figured the president wanted them to do. At the same time, there’s nothing *wrong *with buyer’s remorse for a war. Adjusting strategy to better fit reality is the purpose of high-level reviews.

The question, if there is an adjustment in strategy, is whether the factors that led to that buyer’s remorse were foreseeable — and foreseen. Obama administration officials have been saying that the theft of the election in Afghanistan is what’s driving that reconsideration. I don’t know if that was an outcome widely mooted within the administration ahead of the August 20 election, but the prospect of the election yielding an illegitimate president definitely was, and I can say this because I discussed it with administration officials before the vote. Perhaps the administration thought it wouldn’t happen. A bunch of smart people did. From my piece:

While the U.S. official cautioned that a legitimacy crisis following the election would “forestall progress on all other areas,” some saw such a crisis as an unlikely scenario. “Karzai would be a fool to do something seen as anti-democratic,” a former intelligence officer with experience in Afghanistan who requested anonymity said. Nawaz pegged the odds for the election resulting in a government seen as illegitimate at 30 percent.

Oops. The point isn’t that the fraud should have been anticipated. It’s whether Obama should have seen the Karzai government’s corruption and incompetence as features and not bugs of its tenure, and crafted a strategy that doesn’t rely as heavily on Afghan governance as the current one does. If that’s what Obama is considering — and Barnes’ piece gives some reason for believing that — that’s a sensible reexamination of strategic premises, not callow waffling.

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