There’s an air of mystery hanging over President Obama’s war council, which meets in secrecy yet again this week to discuss a new strategy for Afghanistan in the highly secure White House Situation Room.
But senior officials closely involved in the decision-making process reveal that the president and his team are grappling with one particularly urgent question: Will Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s push for 40,000 more U.S. troops really secure Afghanistan?
McChrystal, who has been joining the president’s war council by secure videophone, framed this debate weeks ago by writing in his now-famous memo that failing to send that many troops could result in the mission failing. But some of Obama’s other top advisers are privately expressing heavy skepticism that sending 40,000 troops will result in a successful Iraq-style surge.
“Afghanistan is not Iraq,” one senior administration official said. “To say that we can take what we did in Iraq and Xerox it and send it to Afghanistan is obtuse.”
A second administration official confirmed this viewpoint has real currency inside Obama’s war council.
“With 40,000 more troops, you cannot do an Iraq-style surge,” this official said. “It’s totally different than Iraq. The strategy is not easily transferable — there are unique challenges in Afghanistan.”
These officials stressed that the president still has not made up his mind about troop levels, which will be a primary topic of discussion at this week’s sixth meeting, and they said it is still possible that Obama will follow McChrystal‘s advice.
But the senior officials seem intent on puncturing the notion that McChrystal’s proposal would be a panacea if fully implemented.
“The expectations need to be more realistic,” the second senior administration official said. “We have to be realistic about what’s possible.”
These advisers to the president believe the public perception has become too focused on the idea that sending 40,000 more troops to the battlefield will result in a full counterinsurgency effort, known as “COIN” within the military, a doctrine made famous by Gen. David Petraeus.