Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

October 9, 2009

Policy drives strategy; strategy makes, shakes, or breaks policy

Filed under: Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on October 9, 2009


AfPak strategy discussions at the White House, Friday afternoon, October 9, White House Photo

Later today the President will meet with key members of his national security team in the latest session focused on crafting an effective US strategy for Afghanistan.

Walking by the White House yesterday the extra crowd control barriers were out on Pennsylvania Avenue.  They will be needed for a while. The anti-war protesters will be back.

On August 17 the President told the Veterans of Foreign Wars,

The insurgency in Afghanistan didn’t just happen overnight and we won’t defeat it overnight. This will not be quick, nor easy. But we must never forget: This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans. So this is not only a war worth fighting. This is a — this is fundamental to the defense of our people.

This is consistent with Mr. Obama’s discussion of Afghanistan during the campaign and in his March policy statement on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But according to the polls the American people do not agree with the President.  An early October poll found 57 percent of Americans opposed to the war in Afghanistan.  Opposition is even stronger among Democrats.

Thursday Glenn Thrush and Manu Raju reported in Politico, “If President Barack Obama decides to send more troops to Afghanistan, he risks setting off an internal party struggle on a foreign policy issue that may well define his performance as commander in chief.”

It is very difficult for a democracy to go to war — or stay at war — without a significant political consensus in favor of the war.

Even so, after his Tuesday meeting with Congressional leadership, the President made it clear that whatever the outcome of the current strategy considerations, there would be no reduction in the current US troop commitment to Afghanistan. 

The war will continue.  The President’s policy remains the same. 

Here’s how he articulated the policy in March,

I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal:  to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future.  That’s the goal that must be achieved. 

In March the President also said, “To achieve our goals, we need a stronger, smarter and comprehensive strategy.”  Policy is implemented through strategy.  Policy is the destination.  Strategy is the map.

Two days after his inauguration, the President appointed Richard Holbrooke as US Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. In mid-June President Obama appointed Gen. Stanley McChrystal as US (and NATO) military commander in Afghanistan.  He also appointed new ambassadors to Afghanistan and Pakistan.  All of these individuals, and many others as well, have been asked to contribute advice on a strategy to implement the President’s policy. 

It is not a simple issue of accepting or rejecting Gen. McChystal’s advice.   The outcome is a strategy that combines the best of military, diplomatic, economic, and political possibilities.

Because this is a democracy, the President’s policy must be articulated and executed in a way that respects — especially if it does not neatly reflect — public sentiment.  Given majority opinion and the stance of his own political party, this will not be easy.  I hope someone at the White House saw Chris Bellavita’s Thursday post (immediately below).

It has been said that leadership is about doing the right thing, while management is about doing things right. In my judgment, the President has already demonstrated leadership.  He has chosen the right policy.  But strategy is also needed. Doing things wrong can undermine the best policy.

Overnight the President was named to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.  According to the BBC, “Asked why the prize had been awarded to Mr Obama less than a year after he took office, Nobel committee head Thorbjoern Jagland said: ‘It was because we would like to support what he is trying to achieve’.”

The Nobel Committee is responding to the President’s policies (well beyond Afghanistan).  I expect the President is embarrassed, even a bit annoyed.  He knows that intention is easy compared to execution. 

We need an effective strategy that deals with realities in Afpak and contributes to a long-term sustainable solution.  He is not yet satisfied we have one.

Saturday October 10 Update:

Obama hears general’s troop request for Afghanistan (New York Times)

Axelrod defends deliberative approach (Lincoln Journal Star)

40,000 more troops proposed (Financial Times)

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Comment by William R. Cumming

October 9, 2009 @ 5:27 am

Actually the President was wrong on August 17th when he said in part “This is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again.” All those that attacked the US on 9/11 are dead. Those who might have attacked US or perhaps were planners, strategists, or funders may still be alive.
I just saw the President has won the NOBEL PEACE PRIZE but wondering how that award stacks up based on actions as opposed to speeches. Time will tell. Personally I believe that AF-PAK is a dream world of LA-LA LAND for most of the US political and military leadership. No real understanding of what is transpiring, all relying on second hand sources, no real strategy, no real exit strategy, and no comprehension of domestic strain of that effort or the fact that so little has been achieved for the effort so far. Personally, I believe WMD issues are paramount for US and believe documentation exits NOW that since 9/11 little in the way of WMD preparedness, prevention, response, recovery has been achieved. So hoping no attacks domestically or even anywhere but given the lack of competence of US in preventing proliferation that is unlikely. As long as WMD are a guarantee of NO US invasion there will be an innate attraction to these weapons.

Comment by Quin

October 9, 2009 @ 8:24 am

I’ll have to disagree with Bill on this one. Just because by 7 June 1942 we had sunk 4 of the 6 Japanese aircraft carriers who had attacked Pearl Harbor, and killed most of the pilots and aircrew who had actually bombed Hawaii, didn’t mean the war was over. Just because we’ve killed or captured nearly all of the AQ leadership since 9/11 doesn’t mean this war is over either. As long as the men who ordered that attack remain at large, there is at the very least a question of justice that remains.

That said, it is disconcerting to see that the powerful message the President laid out at Camp Lejeune this spring, may not in fact last now that his administration is confronted with the actual costs in carrying out. Interestingly, the best, and most plain spoken defense of the necessity for a COIN strategy in Afghanistan I’ve seen yet comes from Lara Logan.


Even after the Soviets left, it took years for Bin Laden to build up the networks and training facilities in Afghanistan. No doubt if they have to lay low for awhile to “prove” the Taliban are no threat, they will. The effects of allowing a Taliban return to power in Afghanistan won’t be felt immediately here, but I have little doubt that within 4-5 years from that mark, we’ll remember while we had to remove them from power in the first place.

What people also forget is that for tactical reasons alone a CT strategy with a Taliban ruled country would be nearly impossible. Landlocked, with no friendly countries next to it from which we can base the necessary direct action forces to actually carry out a CT mission, it’s mind numbing we are even discussing this. This should be contrasted with the tactical advantages of a CT strategy in another “hole in the map” in Somalia. With a long coast open to our unchallenged assets from the seas (which we recently showed), and with friendly nations nearby in Kenya and Ethiopia (who incidently has actually committed its own troops at times) it is vastly more amenable to a CT strategy. Lobbing hellfire missles from a drone, with a diminishing presence on the ground, likely resulting in a decreasing quality of intelligence (necessary to figure out who and where to hit) is not a substitute unfortunately.

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 9, 2009 @ 9:00 pm

Mother Jones had a great post about AQ leadership killed by Predator Strikes. Still think ROE not established and violate International Law.

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 9, 2009 @ 9:01 pm

Is Lara Logan the apparently brilliant British BBC analyst?

Comment by Philip J. Palin

October 10, 2009 @ 3:20 am

My original post was an attempt to communicate the difference between policy and strategy, and the value of recognizing when the topic-at-hand relates to policy or strategy.

I do not perceive the President is second-guessing his long-held policy. Recently he has not even invested much in explaining his policy. Rather, Mr. Obama is actively engaged in crafting a strategy for advancing his policy. A strategy discussion is very different from a policy discussion.

But Quin’s and Bill’s comments raise the less process-oriented issue of whether the President’s current policy is correct or not.

The President’s policy assumes that “Core AQ” presents a clear, present, and persistent danger to the United States. There is a particular concern that Core AQ is the most likely player, in the near-term, to secure and utilize WMD against the US. Quin seems to agree.

Bill — and a majority of Americans — seem to disagree. What I hear being said is that AQ’s capability is sufficiently degraded as to be effectively managed with something less than the current investment of US troops and treasure in Afghanistan. Because Bill and others disagree with the President’s analysis of the problem, they will ipso facto disagree with any plan to solve the (non?)problem.

I am not in a position to directly assess the capabilities of Core AQ. Circumstantial evidence available to all of us does, however, suggest a continued capability that is greater than I would have anticipated eight years ago.

I am also struck by this President’s persistence in pursuing AQ. Given his political realities, it would, I assume, be very tempting to declare victory against AQ if Mr. Obama felt he could. Instead, he sounds implacable on AQ and very “pragmatic” in the use of force to take out the bad guys wherever we find them.

Yet, the President has essentially agreed with Bill that there is (and has been) the absence of a strategy for achieving policy success. This is precisely what his recent effort has sought to address.

Circling back to the purpose of my original post: Once the President has settled on a strategy, I perceive he must convince the general public and, at least, a plurality of his own political party as to the wisdom of his fundamental policy. Only then will his strategic approach be given a fair hearing… and the patience or support that any strategy will require to suceed.

Unless we broadly agree as to the nature of the risk, we will never agree on what we should do to manage the risk.

Comment by christopher tingus

October 10, 2009 @ 2:09 pm

Breaking News – Pakistan hostages being held – No surprise here on Main Street USA –

We are all fully aware of the tenuious position Pakistan offers and as we drink our coffee and talk among ourselves, our concern are the WMD’s and the fact that the Pakistan government has not asked for a a consortium of nations to send troops to guard these installations and weapons destined to fall under control of undesireables – thugs – and Pakistan will not ask for assistance to assure protection of these weapons as the government is not reliable and cannot be trusted for they have spoken continuously from both sides of their mouth….

Let’s face the facts folks, Washington’s commitment to identify a proper AfPak strategy is now nearly nine years in the making even w/the keen minds in our midst. Both sides of the aisle always pointing their arrogant fingers at one another instead of working into the late hours and making compromise and achieving a consensus as our beloved country and people still offer the only hope to so many oppressed from the corrupt regimes and governments abroad!

The Vatican, the French and particularly the Germans all are working in concert with a clear dictate and there is no doubt as we eat our blueberry muffins and talk of the same Europeans that the few survivors at our table willingly jeopardized their Life to protect only to see the Europeans belittle our country at every opportunity.

This nation is debt ridden! This nation is bankrupt!
The Federal Reserve should be audited! These are the initial whispers which have turned to resounding calls for repentence for placing our nation in jeopardy!

Moreover, yes, all should be worrisome of central bankers and the good ‘ol boys of Wall Street supported by their pals, the good ‘ol Beltway boys who not only fail to read in detail any proposed legislation before them these days and admit so, but take an oath to uphold the US Constitution and the local State Consitutions and have very little idea of what our forefathers actually found it necessary to place into written format for obvious reason!

Americans are buying all the guns and bullets on the shelves and not necessarily to challange AQ and the Taliban which they will if needed, but to challenge elected leaders who turn their cheek to the principles of the nation and the rights of citizens.

We don’t want public healthcare, we don’t want big government and we don’t want illegal citizens! If someone is here illegally, out of the country, pronto!
The lines each morning in front of embassies and consulates around the world by individuals lining up and seeking to enter this country and contribute to America in a proud way are endless….

I asked the White House three years ago to purchase 140 fully armored vehicles which were sitting in a German warehouse after coming off the assembly line failing to reach their intended destination urging that these vehicles be purchased from the manufacturer and deployed along out southern borders -silence….

We need strong border patrols who have the law supporting their efforts! And yes, the courts and Judges as well….

The always smiling Pelosi and the all knowing Barney Frank have failed in their personal agenda versus the majority interest.

Congress supported the effort led by Pelosi who is always smiling and Barney Frank who has failed in his assessement of the priorities while we here on Main Street USA become more and more impoverished by the never ending recession, the continued decline in the dollar’s value created intentionally by the Federal Reserve policy makers and the central bankers….

The topic this morning at the table – the $39 fees imposed on the consumer by credit card companies for every reason possible and $3.00+ at ATM’s to borrow their own monies – may (we) suggest that these charges be limted per the amount borrowed so that someone taking out $20.00 has much less of a cost for using the ATM than someone taking out $200 for instance –

W/all the scholars, all the politicans and all their broken promises, it is not only the debt clock which poses peril to us, but the absence in putting aside all this “politics” and addressing together in a unified manner what we intend to do to put folks back to work instead of bailing out the bankers whose strategy was well placed taking care of themselves with lack in transparency and holding onto the fiat dollars instead of sharing as promised!

As far as the Nobel Peace Prize Award, just another confirmation of the Europeans making every effort to compromise our global positioning while they rev up their German manufacturing plants reaching out to the Middle East for much needed oil supplies to support its clear intent of becoming the Middle East dominant player to challenge the Iranians while blackmailing the other reorganized (10) EU countries into depending on the German leadership as the swords of AQ and the Taliban are no match for the Europeans and its fast deployment forces as East Jerusalem becomes the focal point in global tensions –

We should pull out of the region and let the Europeans fill the void. Who are we to continue to be the watchdog for everyone? Place the troops on standby vessels off the UK for it will not be long after our pull out that the Germans and French will be begging the US for help –

As far as Pakistan, there is little hope that the Pakistan government or its security forces will deal and be weary now as the Egyptian government becomes prey as well.

Let’s get a global consensus and let’s not be there to help so easily for we are not really the problem to AQ or the Taliban, it is Germany and the EU and the Vatican and its intentions which are especially the arch enemies of Iran and AQ.

We here at the coffee shop do not see the Taliban as such, however the Europeans and the Vatican with their present strategy and policies making every attempt to make us look bad should not have US troops so easily available and positioned without Europeans in great numbers at the front….It is time to discuss the strategy of Germany and the EU while discussing the Pakistan government and its failings and untrusted ways and AQ and its intentions – while of course sending messages of clarity to the “Brutes of Tehran” who will be dealing with German drones, missles and shiny new naval vessels offshore already sailing the Meditarranean with Middle East objectives!

We love America!

Singing off — The fellas at the coffee shop!

Christopher Tingus

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 10, 2009 @ 6:25 pm

Policy or strategy the huge burden of the Presidency is leadership not command. Why? Because much as I hate to say it his/her sources of information and skills and advisors gives much more depth and resonance to his emotions, feelings, beliefs, understandings, comprehension, knowledge, etc. etc. of the world and the situation the US finds it in. If politics is the art of the possible then the President must be able to expand “what is possible.” I view the current set in most of the Executive Branch and Congress as hoping to keep the range of the possible from being expanded by Presidential leadership. Hoping I am wrong and the NOBEL Committee correct in its collective judgement that already Iliact Sunt [The die are (is) cast!] Has Obama crossed some invisible Rubicon or is he willing to do so based not on his future but the future of the Nation he leads for the moment. Personally I believe a fundamental rethinking of US policy towards the Islamic World is a precusor to almost any intiative involving AQ or the Taliban but of course could be wrong.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

October 11, 2009 @ 8:01 am

Bill, while we may have different angles on what is happening or not in the Hindu Kush, I absolutely agree with you that expanding what is possible is the essential role of leadership. Too many try to impose binary, either/or frameworks (engage vs. withdrawal; McCrystal vs. Biden; all-in or all-out). These are false and debilitating choices. These are stupid choices. Our options are not so limited. Leadership — combined with a reasonable number of followers who will really listen to and engage the leader — can transform what is possible. History suggests to me that in terms of human possibility the die is never cast, rather we remain fluid and white hot with potential for change.

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