President Obama yesterday met with his top advisers to discuss Afghanistan policy and afterwards word leaked out that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates appears to be wavering on going forward with the Obama Administration’s new strategy for Afghanistan. Yochi Dreazen reported in the Wall Street Journal today that Gates, who has supported the counterinsurgency approach in the past, “now worries that counterinsurgency might no longer be a viable approach for countering the Taliban violence roiling once-stable parts of north and west Afghanistan.” This is yet another sign that the Obama Administration may be backpedaling away from the counterinsurgency-based Afghanistan strategy which it unveiled last March.
If Gates now is turning against the recommendations of the administration’s hand-picked commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, then it appears that advocates of a minimalist “small footprint” strategy may win the internal debate within the administration. This would be a potentially disastrous outcome that would demoralize America’s Afghan allies, prompt Afghans sitting on the fence to come down on the side of the insurgents, and further energize the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and other anti-American forces in the region. Heritage Foundation Senior Research Fellow Lisa Curtis has warned that such an outcome would raise the future risks of a terrorist attack on the U.S. homeland. Heritage Foundation Senior Research Fellow James Phillips has noted that the minimalist counterterrorism strategy already has been tried and failed miserably in Afghanistan, as well as in Iraq. It would therefore be a costly mistake if General McChrystal’s new Afghanistan strategy is defeated in Washington before it can be implemented in Afghanistan.