President Obama will announce a new Afghanistan strategy
tomorrow night, which is reported to include an increase in American
troop levels by about 30,000 and a firm exit strategy not pegged to
specific benchmarks. Even with the details yet to be announced, pundits
across the spectrum are already gearing up their full-throated support
or condemnation or, just as likely, armchair-general declarations for
what Obama should have done. But Fred Kaplan, a seasoned war
correspondent and columnist for Slate, takes a very different route:
So here's what it comes down to: This option might be a good idea if it worked, but the chances of its working are slim (though not zero, 1 ); all the other options seem to be bad ideas, but they might cost less money and get fewer American soldiers killed (though not necessarily).Beyond Kaplan's compelling commentary on the politics and strategy of the decision, he reflects on the role of pundits like himself. "Columnists are supposed to have firm views and express them with steadfast certainty. Since I write a column called 'War Stories,' the least a reader might expect from me is a clear opinion on whether the United States should escalate or pull out of the war in Afghanistan," he writes. Kaplan's admission that any strategy has ambiguous odds at success bolsters his argument. Just as importantly, in a world of pundits where everyone claims to have all the answers all the time about everything, his frankness and self-doubt are as commendable as they are rare.
Which road is less unappetizing? I don't know. That's why I'm ambivalent.
My guess is that President Obama held so many meetings with his national-security advisers on this topic -- nine, plus a 10th on Sunday night to get their orders and talking points straight -- because he wanted to break through his own ambivalences; because he needed to come up with a reason (not just a rationalization) for doing whatever it is that he's decided to do, some assurance that it really does make sense, that it has a chance of working, so he can defend it to Congress, the nation, and the world with conviction. Let's hope he found something. A columnist can be ambivalent; a president can't be.