Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Biden on Afghanistan

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has had an influence on President Obama’s reconsideration of the war in Afghanistan.

From the moment they took office, Mr. Biden has been Mr. Obama’s in-house pessimist on Afghanistan, the strongest voice against further escalation of American forces there and the leading doubter of the president’s strategy. It was a role that may have been lonely at first, but has attracted more company inside the White House as Mr. Obama rethinks the strategy he unveiled just seven months ago.

For Mr. Biden, a longtime senator who prided himself on his experience in foreign relations, the role represents an evolution in his own thinking, a shift from his days as a liberal hawk advocating for American involvement in Afghanistan. Month by month, year by year, the story of Mr. Biden’s disenchantment with the Afghan government, and by extension with the engagement there, mirrors America’s slow but steady turn against the war, with just 37 percent supporting more troops in last week’s CBS News poll.

More and more it looks a quagmire, yet leaving would be catastrophic. Still, what would pouring in more troops accomplish?

Mr. Biden does not favor abandoning Afghanistan, but his approach would reject the additional troops sought by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal and leave the American force in Afghanistan roughly the same, 68,000 troops. Rather than emphasize protecting the Afghan population, he would accelerate training of Afghans to take over the fight while hunting Al Qaeda in Pakistan using drones and special forces. His view has caught on with many liberals in his party.

Beyond Mr. Biden’s strategic concerns, some who participated in administration deliberations earlier this year said he was keenly aware that the country, and particularly his party’s liberal base, was growing tired of the war and might not accept many more years of extensive American commitment.

He certainly is old enough to remember Viet Nam.

When Mr. Biden visited Afghanistan in January for a third time, he returned increasingly convinced that America’s national interest lay in Pakistan. With fewer than 100 Qaeda fighters left in Afghanistan, he reasoned, the nation was investing disproportionate resources in the wrong country.

Nine months later, Mr. Obama is reassessing his goal. While officials anticipate that he will fall between the suggestions from Mr. Biden and his commanding general in Afghanistan, they agree that Mr. Biden has shaped the choices — not entirely unlike his predecessor, Dick Cheney.

“There are some ironic similarities to Cheney’s definition of the job and Biden’s in one sense,” Mr. Haass said. “They’re both people who are not hobbled by their own ambitions, they’re both experienced national security hands, and it freed up Cheney and it frees up Biden to give an honest take.”

How ironic.

No comments:

Post a Comment