LOOKING FOR MEANING IN OBAMA’S AFGHAN REVIEW
What's the point of this Afghan review?
The report itself is top secret but we will get to see a summary and hear what President Barack Obama thinks about it.
Once this was seen as a critical date, a fundamental review of a policy that had only just been designed, asking if it could work.
Not now. We know it won't recommend more troops. We know it will say that the strategy ordered by the president last year is working.
As I wrote the words for the cue to my radio report – “it is expected the report will say that progress is being made but there are still many serious challenges ahead” – the words “no” and “Sherlock” came to mind.
It will conclude, as nearly every recent report into Afghanistan does, that military progress is being made, al-Qaeda leaders are being killed, the Pakistani government is co-operating a lot more but not enough, that there are serious worries about the central government of Afghanistan and about training up enough Afghan soldiers and police.
White House correspondents are baffled as to the purpose of this process. The other day, they pressed Robert Gibbs, the president's spokesman, on whether this was a re-think of strategy. This is one of his replies:
“I think it's important to understand that this is a process that happens every week and every month. I guess it's – the notion somehow again – as I was telling Savannah, the notion somehow that the president had a series of 12 or 13, I forget the exact number of three- or two-and-a-half hour meetings, and we just now have, over the course of two months, evaluated where we are, would be inaccurate.
“I do think this is – we did not set down two months ago and say, okay, is this working? We've been doing that every day since the president enumerated his policy. We wanted an evaluation as to where we were on the goals that the president had laid out, where were we on the implementation and time of achieving those goals.”
I think that means that if the strategy wasn't working, they would have changed it by now. Whatever the intended purpose of the review, the most important thing is likely to be the president's language about it and where he puts the emphasis. Does he stress the need to go on fighting, or the need for peace talks? Does he leave any room open for more troops or a longer involvement? What reassurance will he offer the American people about their country's longest war?
Re-election 2012 already looks difficult enough for him, he'll want to make sure Afghanistan simply is not an issue by then.