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Clear, Hold, Build A Bit and Leave

The Republicans like President Obama's surge and don't like the exit strategy. Left leaning Democrats don't like the surge and love the exit strategy. There. We got the tribal political reactions to the president's Tuesday night speech at West Point out of the way.

Now let's discuss what really matters. President Obama may have tried to please too many constituencies with his speech. And he has apparently dropped what was a keystone of the first Obama Afghanistan strategy: the civilian surge. Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of Defense for policy who led the first strategy review at the Pentagon, argued passionately and reasonably for a greatly bolstered American expeditionary aid capability back in April when the first new strategy was announced. The country needed to rebuild US AID, the Pentagon official said.

"I want to once again stress the civilian and military resources required for success. I want to urge you and your colleagues to fund civilian capabilities that can deploy to Afghanistan and economic and security assistance to both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Every day, men and women in our armed forces tell me that they need their civilian counterparts with them in the field to succeed," Flournoy told the House Armed Services Committee in early April. The administration would, she said then, "intensify our civilian assistance and better integrate it with our military efforts. We aim to significantly increase civilian expertise and resources – both US and international – in Afghanistan to promote governance and development programs, and build Afghan capacity. Working with the UN and our allies, we will seek to improve the coordination and coherence of these efforts in support of Afghan priorities."

But President Obama's speech barely mentioned civilian assistance, though he did say, "...we will work with our partners, the United Nations, and the Afghan people to pursue a more effective civilian strategy, so that the government can take advantage of improved security." But in the next sentence he pretty much made clear the Afghans shouldn't expect too much: "This effort must be based on performance. The days of providing a blank check are over." The focus of civilian assistance will be on areas such as agriculture "that can make an immediate impact in the lives of the Afghan people."

So if you boil all this down, it looks as if the president plans to clear, hold, build a bit and get out of Dodge. Not exactly what most of the counterinsurgency experts have argued must be done to secure Afghanistan.

Anthony Cordesman, national security guru at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, pointed to this in a commentary he posted soon after the speech.

The President’s strategy, he wrote, "is neither a counterterrorism or counterinsurgency strategy, although there are important elements of both in his plan. It is a civil-military strategy where long term aid in security assistance, governance aid, and economic aid is critical. The military dimension is only going to be half of the effort. The civil aspects of 'hold' and 'build' will include improved governance, economic aid, policing and rule of law in the population centers that the US and ISAF 'clear.'"

But this highlights what he called "the greatest weakness in the President’s strategy. The State Department still has not shown that it can plan and coordinate an effective aid effort in rule of law/ police development, governance, and local economic aid."

And that may be why we heard so little about the civilian surge from President Obama, simply because the government is currently incapable of executing one.

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