Monday, December 7, 2009


This excellent piece in the New York Times lays out how Obama came to choose his recently-announced AfPak surge strategy, focusing both on the process and the actors involved. This must-read piece is based on extensive interviews mainly with the principles and is elsewhere corroborated wherever possible.


- The manner in which Obama conducted the review encouraged transparency (but confidentiality), frankness, lengthy debate over well-defined opinions, diversity of ideas, and clarity of purpose (also perceived as a lack of deference) from a non-military president confronting a military bureaucracy largely formed by the Bush administration's notion of the treatment of war.

- Gates was of central importance in defining the numbers and mechanics of the strategy. The selection of Gates' own proposal to send 30,000 US troops (with an additional 10,000 coming from NATO) ultimately reflects the president's trust in him - yet another demonstration of the significant bipartisan respect Gates commands throughout Washington.

- Gates, Clinton, and Jones' harmonious collaboration was key to a more thorough examination and to avoiding inter-department drama during the more delicate moments. One example: Clinton was unafraid of asking tough questions about troop specifics that might be seen, in another administration, as stepping on Pentagon turf. This posed no such problem during the recent review process.

- Clinton took leadership with Karzai by compelling him to publicly commit to delivering results. She heavily influenced the content of his inaugural address in which he vowed to clean up corruption and take control of the security situation while making reference to timetables to accomplish this.

- Biden's opposition successfully narrowed the mission and secured Obama's commitment to withdrawal dates, even if his opposition to the surge was not heeded.

- Holbrooke was absent from this process from start to finish. After storming out on a meeting with Karzai and remaining silent since, Holbrooke's place in the AfPak process to come seems precarious at best.

- Amy Greene