Remembering the Forgotten War

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Monday, December 17, 2007; 1:20 PM

What happens when you leave one war unfinished to go fight another one? Nothing good.

As President Bush and his top aides consider what sort of world they'll be leaving behind, they're apparently realizing -- none too soon -- that they've made quite a mess in Afghanistan, too.

Thom Shanker and Steven Lee Myers write in the New York Times: "Deeply concerned about the prospect of failure in Afghanistan, the Bush administration and NATO have begun three top-to-bottom reviews of the entire mission, from security and counterterrorism to political consolidation and economic development, according to American and alliance officials."

Shanker and Myers describe "a growing apprehension" in the White House "that one of the administration's most important legacies -- the routing of Taliban and Qaeda forces in Afghanistan after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 -- may slip away, according to senior administration official. . . .

"In recent months," they write, "Mr. Bush's senior advisers have expressed a growing unease.

"While there is a sense that this year's troop buildup in Iraq has turned around a dire situation, the effort in Afghanistan has begun to drift, at best, officials said. That prompted Mr. Bush's national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, to oversee internal deliberations that resulted in the push for the new reviews."

But what are the options? "Strained by commitments in Iraq, the American military has few troops available to expand its forces in Afghanistan. 'It is simply a matter of resources, of capacity,' Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress this week."

Michael Abramowitz and Peter Baker write in The Washington Post with one possibility: "With violence on the decline in Iraq but on the upswing in Afghanistan, President Bush is facing new pressure from the U.S. military to accelerate a troop drawdown in Iraq and bulk up force levels in Afghanistan, according to senior U.S. officials. . . .

"Bush's decisions on Iraq and Afghanistan could heavily influence his ability to pass on to his successor stable situations in both countries, an objective his advisers describe as one of the president's paramount goals for his final year in office. . . .

"Senior administration officials now believe Afghanistan may pose a greater longer-term challenge than Iraq."

So does this mean a stepped-up withdrawal from Iraq? Top Pentagon officials are apparently pushing in that direction. But Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander there, may not agree. And it's pretty clear who Bush listens to.

"As violence in Iraq falls," Abramowitz and Baker write, "Petraeus's stock has risen sharply within the administration, particularly since his strategy appears to be having an effect, and his views may carry the day with Bush. By contrast, many in the Pentagon opposed this year's troop 'surge' and are likely to see their influence with the White House diminished.

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