Karl Eikenberry, who was in charge of training the Afghan Army from 2002-2003, and in charge of all U.S. military operations in Afghanistan from 2005-2007, now is Ambassador to Afghanistan. Eikenberry apparently is the dissenting voice on the Obama national security team which caused Obama to reject the military options presented by the team, all of which include an increase in troop strength.
If reports are accurate, Eikenberry feels that there needs to be additional assurances that the Afghan government is not corrupt and a specific timetable for handing over responsibility.
Of course, Obama and Eikenberry are being hailed in the left-wing blogopshere as supremely rational and thoughtful beings. The right-wing blogosphere (including me) and even much of the mainstream media are seeing Obama’s dawdling as a sign, 10 months into his term, that Obama doesn’t have a clue what to do and cannot make a hard decision.
Since Eikenberry is the new sage, it is worth revisiting some of his prior observations on the situation in Afghanistan:
- 2005: “Now, against that backdrop, consider where Afghanistan is today. The country now has a constitution. Political processes have been formalized. The country has a democratically elected president. A representative National Assembly and provincial councils have been elected, and parliament will sit within the next two weeks for the first time in decades. The Afghan National Army now numbers about 30,000 strong, and is a nationally recognized institution with a nationwide presence. In fact, the Afghan National Army has completed its first deployment out of Afghanistan, which it did in support of the relief efforts to the Pakistan earthquake. The Afghan National Police force is taking shape as well. Roads, wells, schools and clinics are being built around the country. Millions of children are now attending schools, many for the first time. And just as important, there is a strong international consensus in place to continue this productive partnership with the Afghan people. Clearly there’s ample reason to be both proud and to be optimistic.”
- 2006: “I disagree that the Taliban and their affiliated movements of Al Qaeda are the strongest that they have ever been. I would say that they have changed their tactics. I would say that as the government of Afghanistan continues to advance into new areas where traditionally the influence of the state has not been found, even after 2001, that as the enemy is pushed into these spaces, the enemy is contesting the advance of the state. So I’d sum this all up by saying that at the end of the day it’s not that this is a strong enemy. It’s that the institutions of the state are still fragile and in certain instances are still weak.”
- 2007: “Although it’s going to be a violent spring and I would expect that we’ll have more violence into the summer, I’m absolutely confident that we’re going to be able to dominate.”
- 2008: “Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and now the deputy chairman of NATO’s military committee, says that there is currently a shortage of maneuver and infantry forces in the country. What’ s more, he adds, there are not enough troops to train the Afghan Army and police. “That’s the greatest shortfall,” he adds.”
Eikenberry has been instrumental in U.S. Afghanistan policy for almost 7 years. His input certainly should be valued, but not overstated. He has been right on some things (the need to clean up Afghan government corruption) and wrong on some things (the resilience of the Taliban). To the extent there have been failures, Eikenberry shares some blame (there’s plenty to go around).
Giving Eikenberry a seat at the table is one thing. Presumably in the last six months since his appointment as Ambassador he has had input.
But to invoke Eikenberry as some sort of guru who knows better than all others appears to me to be an excuse for Obama’s indecisiveness.