There aren't many forces pulling the White House to the left on the war
in Afghanistan. Conventional thinking is currently focused on a
strong, boots-on-the-ground strategy of nation-building and
counterinsurgency that would fight the Taliban as well as al Qaeda.
Meanwhile, General Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, has
called for an even more aggressive approach. But Vice President Joe
Biden, whose dove-ish views stand in contrast to official White
House policy, is taking an increasingly public stand for a more
constrained policy of pure counter-terrorism: focus on al Qaeda,
avoid getting mired in nation-building, and train Afghan troops so Americans
can leave. His influence as the highest-ranking liberal dove in
Washington is growing, but he remains in the minority. Will Biden
succeed in altering the thinking of President Obama and Washington's
hawkish orthodoxy on Afghanistan?
- America's Dove in the White House The New York Times's Peter Baker explores Biden's role as "in-house pessimist" on the war. "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," Baker wrote. "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."
Biden Gathering High-Level Support In a Newsweek cover story, Holly Bailey and Evan Thomas
say Biden, once the lone voice against greater involvement, has brought
around important officials. "His persistence and truth telling have
paid off, and he's found a role
for himself. On Afghanistan in particular, the vice president's once
lonesome position now has high-level support. The president himself
seems to be looking for a middle way--not pulling out of Afghanistan,
but at the same time not sending in the more than 40,000 troops
requested by the U.S. ground commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal," they
write, arguing that Biden is more hawkish than we might think. "Biden
has been incorrectly characterized as a dove who wants to pull
out of Afghanistan. In fact, according to his 'Counterterrorism-Plus'
paper, he wants to maintain a large troop presence. He also favors a
greater emphasis on training Afghan troops--and defending Kabul and
Kandahar--than on chasing the Taliban around the countryside, and he
wants more diplomatic efforts to try to peel away those Taliban who can
be bought with money or other inducements (like political power)."
- What Made Biden So Skeptical The New Republic's Michael Crowley notes
that Biden was once far more hawkish. "His newfound skepticism is not
only a story about dashed hopes in
Afghanistan. It is also a story of how a leading liberal hawk found
realism in the Hindu Kush," Crowley writes. "People familiar with
Biden's shift in thinking say it has many roots.
But none is more apparent or vivid than his disillusionment with the
Afghan president, Hamid Karzai." Crowley says that Biden, once a
friendly support of Karzai, gradually turned against him over
government corruption. "Reiterating his prior complaints about
corruption, Biden warned
Karzai that the Bush administration's kid-glove treatment was over; the
new team would demand more of him.
Biden's revised view of Karzai was pivotal. Whereas he had once felt
that, with sufficient U.S. support, Afghanistan could be stabilized,
now he wasn't so sure."
Conservative Hawks Find Opponent in Biden The Weekly Standard's Michael Goldfarb derides Biden's strategy, as many conservatives have done
since, signaling Biden's arrival as the leading representative of
liberal Afghan plans. "The counterterrorism approach has been derided
as the 'Biden Plan' --
because Biden's support of the counterterrorism approach is itself such
a damning indictment of the plan," he writes. "Of course, it's all to
the good of the country and the war effort that
the White House has killed the counterterrorism approach by labeling it
the Biden Plan, but if I were a supporter of that approach, as so many
on the left are, I would be furious that the White House had made a
fool out of me by allowing Biden to be cast as the plan's most
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