Here’s what an anonymous Republican aide told Greg Sargent about the politics of escalation in Afghanistan:
“There better be a hell of a compelling reason for ignoring the advice of our generals on the ground or Republicans will ensure that this Administration spend the next few years explaining to the American people how dismissing our military’s advice has made our troops and our country safer,” the aide says.
Greg wants to know:
But there’s an interesting caveat, one that underscores the political challenges the GOP will face as they respond to Obama’s decision: What if he decides to send less than 40,000 troops, but the decision is endorsed by the commanding officer, General Stanley McChrystal?
You can see this taking shape. Defense Secretary Robert Gates — who’s warned his fellow Republicans against making Afghanistan “Obama’s war” — has promised that McChrystal will testify before Congress after President Obama makes up his mind on the scope of escalation. McChrystal is not going to go before the armed services committees and say he’s dissatisfied with any decision Obama makes. Either he is and he continues to serve and he’s not and resigns. And the latter option is, to say the least, extremely unlikely.
What’s more, let’s say that McClatchy is right and Obama goes with 34,000 new troops. Is the Republican Party really going to say that 6,000 troops — basically one to two Army combat brigades — are the difference between success and failure? That’s, well … that just doesn’t make sense.
Finally, why stop at 40,000? There was a higher-end estimate in McChrystal’s resource-request options palette, one that reportedly centered around 85,000 new troops. Why aren’t Republicans going to jump on that? Some in the military, I’m told, are behind it. But it’s also an extremely high request that’s almost certainly unrealistic, given the realities of deployment on a 12-month schedule for resting troops at home and with 120,000 troops still in Iraq. But as long as the GOP is indicating to Sargent that it’s interested primarily in playing politics with the war, why not go for a number with real differences from any 30,000-plus option Obama is likely to favor?