So the generals are brewing, and the veterans are getting restive. Nine months after Obama’s inauguration, according to the Times, the military establishment is beginning to lose its patience with a president who has yet to commit to a coherent plan for Afghanistan.
Needless to say, Obama’s delay isn’t for lack of information, much less analysis. Last spring he sent an A-Team of military strategists and counter-insurgency experts to comb the Afghan countryside, while more recently it’s been a rare day that the editorial pages of the Washington Post, the New York Times or the LA Times have failed to roll out yet another version of What To Do.
So why then can’t Obama commit?
There’s no knowing for sure, but I doubt it’s simply a matter of cold feet. More likely it has to do with the game of nuclear chicken currently being played by Israel and Iran.
To see what I mean, just consider the following transcript. My guess is it’s fairly close to what’s passing for polite conversation in the Situation Room these days.
President Obama: So, Bob, what are we waiting for? I’m getting hammered on health care, Geithner has his head up Goldman’s ass, now I’m taking flak on Afghanistan. What the hell is taking so long?
Secretary Gates: Israel, Mr. President. We’re not sure if they’re going to take out Qom, much less Natanz, and we can’t commit to Afghanistan until we know for certain.
President Obama: What do you mean we’re not sure? Everyone knows Israel is crazy. Of course they’re going to bomb Iran.
Vice President Biden (shaking his head): Barry, I love you, but come on. Get with the game here. The question isn’t whether Israel is crazy. It’s whether they’re batshit crazy. Bob wasn’t referring to the nuclear site at Natanz, he was referring to the whole damn city.
President Obama: Bob-?
Secretary Gates: He’s right, Mr. President. As I’ve said before, a conventional military strike, no matter how extensive, would only set the clock back a few years. A nuclear strike is the only way guaranteed to permanently disable Iran’s nuclear program.
President Obama: So are you telling me Israel is seriously considering a nuclear attack on Iran?
National Security Advisor Gen. Jones: Sir, we have to assume they are. Israel is dead serious about preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and they know as well as we do that that’s the only sure way.
President Obama: But would Israel really risk the backlash?
Chief of Staff Emanuel: Risk? Mr. President, you’ve got to be f*cking kidding me. The entire Israeli defense establishment is predicated on risk. Just look at Sharon. What do you think his career signaled to the IDF officer corps? To lay off, act cautiously? Please. If the IDF pulls off this strike, they’ll be treated as national heroes.
President Obama: So the political fallout isn’t a deterrent.
Secretary Gates: Not for Israel. Presumably they’d have to deal with more rockets from Hizbollah and Hamas, and a few dozen ballistic missiles from Iran. But by and large Iran would target us in response, lashing out wherever we’re weakest, be it Iraq or Afghanistan. They’d also either attack a few boats in the Gulf or let it be known they’ve planted more mines — whatever it takes to send insurance rates skyrocketing for oil supertankers.
President Obama: So what are our options?
Gen. Jones: What we’ve been doing. Wait and see. If Israel is dead-set on attacking Iran, we probably can’t stop them. Which means we need to stay as flexible as possible to deal with Iran’s potential response.
President Obama: In other words, keep stalling on Afghanistan.
Secretary Gates: You said it, sir, not me.
Again, just a guess. But I think it’s fairly clear that Obama’s hesitation on Afghanistan has less to do with the country itself and far more to do with the uncertainty surrounding its regional context.
Already we have John Bolton pushing for an Israeli nuclear strike on Iran, Israel leaking its knowledge of Russian nuclear scientists working in Iran, Secretary Clinton making bizarre trips to Russia, and, not least, exactly the kind of mid-level Pentagon chatter you’d expect to see if something were in the offing.
Hopefully I’m wrong. But something is clearly brewing, and I fear the stakes are far higher than losing Kandahar or Helmand.
Filed under: Afghanistan, Iran, Israel | 12 Comments