Yesterday, in a briefing at the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates commented that, in his days at the CIA, “we always used to categorize information in two ways, secrets and mysteries,” with mysteries being “those where there were too many variables to predict. And I think that how long U.S. forces will be in Afghanistan is in that area.”
Actually, it’s not all that much a mystery. Counterinsurgencies can go on for a long time but what is actually required and the results one can expect from a properly executed counterinsurgency strategy are relatively predictable. The hard part is getting the public and governments to commit to putting sufficient resources into the effort so that the strategy can succeed.
And it is on this front that the second headline from yesterday’s briefing is so disturbing: Gates told reporters that while Gen. McChrystal, the new top commander for U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan, would be free to give his assessment of the situation there, that assessment would not contain a specific request for the troops needed to carry out the general’s war plan. Clearly, and what’s no mystery here as well, Secretary Gates and the Obama administration desire to massage any future resource requests to fit politics back in Washington—and not what is required on the ground in Afghanistan.
Obviously, Secretary Gates and the president have a legal and constitutional obligation to oversee what the military is up to. The only real question is whether they are doing so for the right reasons.