Saturday, January 24, 2009

Bring on the realists: on attaining "very concrete things" in war zones

Joe Klein flags this "significant shift in tone from the Bush Administration" from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates:
I think one of the -- one of the points where I suspect both administrations come to the same conclusion is that the goals we did have for Afghanistan are too broad and too far into the future, are too future-oriented, and that we need more concrete goals that can be achieved realistically within three to five years in terms of reestablishing control in certain areas, providing security for the population, going after alQaeda, preventing the reestablishment of terrorism, better performance in terms of delivery of services to the people, some very concrete things.
Compare Obama, pushing Ryan Crocker toward an attainable definition of success in Iraq last April:

And, see, the problem I have is if the definition of success is so high, no traces of Al Qaida and no possibility of reconstitution, a highly-effective Iraqi government, a Democratic multiethnic, multi- sectarian functioning democracy, no Iranian influence, at least not of the kind that we don't like, then that portends the possibility of us staying for 20 or 30 years.

If, on the other hand, our criteria is a messy, sloppy status quo but there's not, you know, huge outbreaks of violence, there's still corruption, but the country is struggling along, but it's not a threat to its neighbors and it's not an Al Qaida base, that seems to me an achievable goal within a measurable timeframe, and that, I think, is what everybody here on this committee has been trying to drive at, and we haven't been able to get as clear of an answer as we would like.

Gates and Obama have long implicitly differed - and probably continue to differ - about the pace of withdrawal from Iraq. But they have long been on the same page when it comes to setting realistic goals and priorities with an eye to available resources.

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