John Kerry gave a major address on Afghanistan at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C. today. The top head line is certainly to be that Kerry opposes sending 40,000 new troops to Afghanistan as was requested by General Stanley McChrystal. He favors, instead, a more narrow focus on training local Afghan military and police to strengthen the capacity of the Afghan government.
“I am convinced from my conversations with General Stanley McChrystal that he understands the necessity of conducting a smart counterinsurgency in a limited geographic area. But I believe his current plan reaches too far, too fast. We do not yet have the critical guarantees of governance and development capacity. I also have serious concerns about the ability to produce effective Afghan forces to partner with, so we can ensure that when our troops make heroic sacrifices, the benefits to the Afghans are clear and sustainable.”
Now, the big knock against this line of argument is that there is political risk in going against what a General requests. But I do wonder if there has ever been a commander in the history of military affairs who asked for fewer troops and fewer resources to get the job done? The whole point of civilian control of the military is that civilian leaders, who are ultimately accountable to voters, are forced to see the bigger picture in terms of national interest.