Eikenberry Memos Place Spotlight on U.S. Dilemmas in Afghanistan

On January 25 in a story by Eric Schmitt, the New York Times reported on and published the full text of memos written by Ambassador Karl Eikenberry on November 6 and November 9, 2009, detailing his reasons for opposing the counterinsurgency strategy and “surge” proposed by Gen. Stanley McChrystal and the latter’s boss, CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petreus.

The cables strongly suggest that President Obama’s much-touted and drawn-out Afghanistan policy review in the fall did not fully address the validity of key assumptions upon which the McChrystal proposals were based, including 1) the assumption that Karzai and his government could become the kind of government partner needed for the strategy to succeed; and 2) the assumption that the Afghan army and police could be trained and built up quickly to take over and hold areas cleared by U.S. and NATO forces (including the additional 40,000 troops requested by McChrystal).

The fact that the U.S. ambassador in Kabul, himself a former commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, felt the policy review had been too narrowly focused on counterinsurgency doctrine and strategy, is in itself quite amazing.

Perhaps sensing that his views were on the verge of being eclipsed by the recommendations of Mr. Obama’s military advisors, Eikenberry in the second cable urged further study by a broader group to fully weigh considerations such as those raised in his cables–which he obviously felt were not being given due weight in the current review.

The memos confirm that the U.S. has a capable ambassador and diplomatic team in Kabul, who understand the broader picture of what is going on in Afghanistan.

But in the end, Mr. Obama did not follow the main thrust of Eikenberry’s arguments and advice. The President has gained time, perhaps, in domestic political terms, and perhaps also to see if the new strategy of protecting populations can reverse the momentum of the Taliban.

Reading these cables, however, and Eikenberry’s cogent descriptions of what sound like insuperable obstacles to be overcome, it is difficult to discern grounds for optimism regarding the success of the current strategy.

The Trenchant Observer

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The Observer
"The Trenchant Observer" is an international lawyer who has taught innternational law, human rights, and comparative law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. He is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (IACHR), and an international development practitioner who has worked on human rights and judicial reform projects in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and in Russia. He has also worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in Europe, the Middle East, throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Observer speaks fluent French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, in addition to English. He holds undergraduate and law degrees from Stanford University, and a Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.) in International Law from Harvard University. As an undergraduate, he studied modern European history at Stanford, where he won the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best honors thesis in history.

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