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Eliot Cohen Lays Into Obama at COIN Conferencce

At a conference on leadership in counterinsurgency at the National Press Club sponsored by Marine Corps University, Eliot Cohen, the respected Johns Hopkins scholar who advised Condoleezza Rice at the tail end of the Bush administration, slowly and steadily built up a critique of the Obama administration on Afghanistan. Obama’s apparent reconsideration of counterinsurgency strategy for the war hangs over the conference, and Cohen brought it to the fore.

First he criticized Obama’s “apparent” decision not to continue personal video teleconferencing with the Gen. Stanley McChrystal in Afghanistan and Gen. Raymond Odierno in Iraq, an arrangement Cohen said served President George W. Bush during the surge. Then he said Obama’s decision to create “special envoys” for a variety of tasks left a bad taste in his mouth, since it wasn’t clear to whom they report — “the president, the secretary of state” — and what institutional bureaucratic support they actually command. Then came the crescendo.

Obliquely referencing the leaked McChrystal review as the “events of this week,” Cohen said bringing disputes about “strategy” into the public had “real impact” — deleterious impact — for events “on the ground,” since friends, enemies and undecideds “all watch CNN.” And now, Cohen intimated but did not say directly, they’d question Obama’s “commitment” to Afghanistan.

Cohen’s comment could be interpreted as criticizing the *leaker, *since it wasn’t the Obama administration that handed McChrystal’s review to Bob Woodward. But his emphasis on public “strategy” disputes appeared to be aimed at Obama, who told “Meet The Press” that he wouldn’t add troops until he’s convinced his Afghanistan strategy is correct, a comment that’s led to much speculation about whether Obama has counterinsurgency “buyer’s remorse.”

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