In my last post, I wrote:

The more I think about this, the more I think that the whole speech makes a lot more sense if there is some kind of credible commitment from Pakistan on the table that we don’t know about just yet. It’s sheer speculation, but think about it — a smaller-than-recommended number of troops for a pretty large cost when budgets are already busted thanks to a tanking economy and a healthcare bill in the works… it seems almost silly unless Obama has some kind of arrangement in the works with Pakistan. And it bears repeating — it’s Pakistan that will ultimately determine the success or failure of this operation.

That was during Obama’s speech at West Point, on Monday. This morning, Defense Secretary Robert Gates spoke with several network morning shows. The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder reports:

On the Pakistani nuclear issue, says Gates: ” “Well I think I’ll just leave it that based on information available to us we’re comfortable.”  Translation: we know whether the nukes are, and we’re going to seize them if anything destabilizing happens, even though we’ll never admit this, and even though Pakistan’s military doesn’t think we know.

I’d say this lines up nicely with my hypothesis above, although I’d disagree with Ambinder’s “translation.” Pretending that the Pakistani military “doesn’t think we know” something that Gates might by slyly alluding to on an American national network broadcast is a little naive, I think. Rather, I think it’s fair to speculate that Gates is uncomfortable going into particulars about any knowledge of or arrangement concerning Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, but his language on the subject suggests that something is going on, and my own personal guess is that the nukes are part of some deal regarding Afghanistan that the U.S. is currently working on with Pakistan.

We’ll see. Or, I guess, I hope we’ll see, because I’d love for a prediction I made publicly to turn out to be 100 percent correct.

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Okay, I just watched President Obama’s speech on the new Afghan war strategy at West Point, and here is my initial reaction:

Cons:

– 30,000 additional U.S. troops seems like an insufficient number to bring Afghanistan back from the tipping point it’s currently on.
– $30 billion per year seems like a pretty low estimate for what the war will cost
– Obama’s optimism for meaningful help from NATO allies seems unfounded

Pros:

Well, not a whole lot, really. It is a concrete plan (mostly), and it involves a timetable. Other than that,

– Adds a “civilian surge” (i.e., humanitarian aid and economic incentives) and a diplomatic angle that involves Pakistan
– Basically grounded in realism
– Consistent with campaign promises

My own feelings on the subject are that if the war in Afghanistan is to be “escalated in order to end it,” then a more appropriate number of troops would have been Gen. McChrystal’s recommendation for something on the order of 70,000-80,000. “Go big or go home,” in other words. But the fact of the matter is that the war will not be won or lost based on the size of the troop surge. The real problem in Afghanistan isn’t necessarily tactical (although, tactical problems certainly exist), it’s geopolitical, and has a lot to do with Pakistan’s willingness (and ability) to cooperate with U.S. goals for their neighbor and the region.

UPDATE: The more I think about this, the more I think that the whole speech makes a lot more sense if there is some kind of credible commitment from Pakistan on the table that we don’t know about just yet. It’s sheer speculation, but think about it — a smaller-than-recommended number of troops for a pretty large cost when budgets are already busted thanks to a tanking economy and a healthcare bill in the works… it seems almost silly unless Obama has some kind of arrangement in the works with Pakistan. And it bears repeating — it’s Pakistan that will ultimately determine the success or failure of this operation.

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