It's encouraging that General Jim Jones, the national security adviser, seems to have laid down the law to US generals in Afghanistan: no more troops.
That's not the same as less troops, but it's a start.
In a lengthy Washington Post report, Jones is quoted extensively telling the generals that economic development in Afghanistan will win the fight with the Taliban, not more soldiers. And he used rather colorful language to make his point. During the meeting with Jones, General Nicholson, the US commander, dropped hints that he'd like more forces. Here's the Post account:
Jones recalled how Obama had initially decided to deploy additional forces this year. "At a table much like this," Jones said, referring to the polished wood table in the White House Situation Room, "the president's principals met and agreed to recommend 17,000 more troops for Afghanistan." The principals -- Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; Gates; Mullen; and the director of national intelligence, Dennis C. Blair -- made this recommendation in February during the first full month of the Obama administration. The president approved the deployments, which included Nicholson's Marines.
Soon after that, Jones said, the principals told the president, "oops," we need an additional 4,000 to help train the Afghan army.
"They then said, 'If you do all that, we think we can turn this around,' " Jones said, reminding the Marines here that the president had quickly approved and publicly announced the additional 4,000.
Now suppose you're the president, Jones told them, and the requests come into the White House for yet more forces. How do you think Obama might look at this? Jones asked, casting his eyes around the colonels. How do you think he might feel?
Jones let the question hang in the air-conditioned, fluorescent-lighted room. Nicholson and the colonels said nothing.
Well, Jones went on, after all those additional troops, 17,000 plus 4,000 more, if there were new requests for force now, the president would quite likely have "a Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment." Everyone in the room caught the phonetic reference to WTF -- which in the military and elsewhere means "What the [expletive]?"
The Post added that the generals seemed "to blanch at the unambiguous message that this might be all the troops they were going to get."
It seems significant to me that Jones did this in public, with a reporter in the room, rather than privately, since it does commit the administration to an end to the escalation in Afghanistan. (Or else we can all say: WTF?)