Monday, February 08, 2010

Afghanistan redux: Obama's HCR surge

More on the similarities noted below in the way Obama approached revamping his strategy in Afghanistan and on health care reform post-Massachusetts:  in both cases, he was faced with a rapidly deteriorating situation (at least partly of his own making on the HCR front), accompanied by loud warnings of failure. In both, he "dithered" while calls for rapid response escalated. In both, he was confronted with an apparent menu of unattractive or highly problematic options (cut bait or escalate). In both, he forged a new strategy that did not compromise on the stated goal but mapped out an unforeseen path (or rather, a variation on the apparent path) to get there. Both of those strategies entailed a "hurry up slowly" strategy that postponed a desired end (drawdown of U.S. troops, passage of a full-scale HCR bill) but put it on a strict timeline.

Both strategies hinge on creating a space to change perceptions and realities before taking the decisive action. Both entail publicly reaching out to implacable foes while implementing a "surge" designed either to defeat or coopt them -- and also designed to win the war of ideas while holding out the olive branch. (Come to think of it, Obama's approach to jobs and deficit reduction also follows this two-step pattern.)

There's no telling whether either strategy will work.  Perhaps the odds are against both. But it's the kind of risk-taking I can believe in -- the kind where the risks inherent in all of the alternatives are worse. Risk management, in other words.

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