Over the last few weeks, as President Obama has been engaged in a review of the Afghan strategy, many commentators have breathlessly suggested that “he’s taking too long.” This criticism is wholly unfounded.
By way of comparison, the Bush administration kicked off its review of strategy in Iraq by appointing the Iraq Study Group in March of 2006. The ISG spent nine months meeting, taking evidence, and debating strategy before publishing its report and recommendations on December 6, 2006. The Bush administration then ignored the ISG’s findings and recommendations, and then took another five weeks before President Bush announced the Surge strategy on January 10, 2007.
Additionally, the war conditions in Afghanistan are markedly different from those in Iraq. As I’ve pointed out before, the conditions in Afghanistan are such that fighting effectively ceases during the winter months – medieval though it may seem, there is an actual fighting season in Afghanistan. Combined with the amount of time necessary to deploy additional resources in Afghanistan, the regularized fighting season gives this administration plenty of time to review the strategy it inherited from the Bush administration and come to grips with the critical question of the Afghan campaign: what is the United States’ goal? It must be from the answer to that question that strategic, tactical, and resource decisions flow.
None of this is to suggest that the Afghan strategy review should not be approach with a sense of urgency. It absolutely should. However, the review process has not taken too long—in this case, effective solutions are of greater utility than quick answers.