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Kristol: Reckless Rahm

4:06 PM, Oct 18, 2009 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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"It would be reckless to make a decision on U.S. troop level if, in fact, you haven't done a thorough analysis of whether, in fact, there's an Afghan partner ready to fill that space that the U.S. troops would create and become a true partner in governing the Afghan country." -- White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, on CNN today

On Rahm Emanuel's use of the unresolved Afghan election as a reason for the Obama administration delaying its decision on Gen. Stanley McChrystal's request for more troops:

1. It's bogus. Emanuel, along with Vice President Joe Biden and many others in the White House, was against sending more troops before the current election controversy. The anti-surge forces lost the argument to substitute Biden's counter-terrorism approach for McChrystal's (and Obama's) counter-insurgency strategy. So now Emanuel is reaching for a new excuse to persuade his boss to avoid a politically difficult choice -- or to rationalize his boss's having decided to duck a politically difficult choice.

2. It's faux-surprise. President Obama announced his counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan on March 27. Richard Holbrooke and the rest of the administration had months to work on the political and diplomatic fronts to bring about a better election process. They failed. Just before the Afghan election, on August 17, when it was perfectly clear there was going to be lots of corruption and cheating, Obama gave a speech reiterating his commitment to winning this "war of necessity." Now the administration is surprised that the Afghan election wasn't a thing of beauty, and that the political/governance situation is complex?

3. It's presumptuous. Wasn't the White House just complaining about Gen. McChrystal offering his judgment in public while internal administration debates were ongoing? I suppose one can't say that Emanuel should have confined himself to privately offering his view up the chain of command -- the only person above him is the president. But are we then to conclude Emanuel was speaking for the president today? Are Sunday talk show declarations by Emanuel and political advisor David Axelrod an appropriate way to announce the considered judgment of the president at this stage of a long Cabinet-level review process? Or is Emanuel end-running the process? Do Secretaries Gates and Clinton agree with Emanuel? Were they consulted before Rahm popped off?

4. It's stupid. If it's reckless to commit to 108,000 troops without a reliable Afghan partner, it's reckless to ask 68,000 troops to fight without a reliable Afghan partner. Furthermore, what's reckless is further delaying the troop deployment orders. If the president issued the order now, he could always delay or revoke it later, if the political situation seemed truly insupportable. But the longer the president delays now, the longer our troops currently in theater are going to be fighting an under-resourced war, until reinforcements come. In addition, our hesitancy about our commitment now increases the odds of our Afghan partners becoming less reliable rather than more so in the future, and less rather than more amenable to our guidance.

In sum: It was Rahm Emanuel's comments today that were reckless. Obama will have to make a decision about Afghan troop levels without having full confidence that we have a 100 percent wonderful Afghan partner, however the election situation is resolved. To govern is to choose. To let your staff find excuses for dangerous delay is irresponsible.