Reviewing Not Revamping

The Obama administration's Afghanistan strategy review is out, and the New York Times is reporting that although allied troops have seized the initiative in Kandahar (where quoted Taliban leaders are saying things that seem to come right out of General David Petraeus's script, i.e., admitting that "we did not provide" the population "with anything except fighting" and now the locals won't cooperate; or that the public became "hopeful" after the Americans announced "they would stay until 2014."), they appear to be losing ground in the northern part of the country.

And the Wall Street Journal headlines that the tenuous progress means the administration will (surprise!) hold off on making any decisions about changing strategy, tactics or troop levels. (Paul Pillar details some reasons for the indecision here.) But President Obama says the study shows that America is "on track" to meeting its "goals" and can start withdrawing in July.

Washington Post George Will highlights the "minimalist optimism" being expressed by Beltway insiders about the situation, which he calls "unsettling." Will wonders if we aren't seeing the Taliban's version of the Tet Offensive, which won the Vietnam War for the North "not in Vietnam but in America." And right on cue, ABC poll results show a record 60 percent of Americans are against the war in Afghanistan.

Wall Street Journal editorial board member Matthew Kaminski is also concerned because, whatever the positive developments in Afghanistan, "Pakistan hasn't turned," and without Pakistan's commitment to eliminating insurgent sanctuaries inside its borders, "America can't win in Afghanistan."

Robert Dreyfuss can't figure out the purpose of the assessment, other than to avoid having to talk about withdrawal. And Robert Neiman and David Dayen detect some discrepencies between the narrative of the strategy review and what the Wikileak-released diplomatic cables are saying.

Just back from a trip to the conflict-ridden state, Andrew Exum offers up five ways to improve the situation, including reinventing recently deceased super-envoy Richard Holbrooke's role (instead of trying to fill the massive void) and a surprising suggestion to cut war funding in order to stem corruption in Kabul. Retired U.S. Army Colonel Peter Mansoor has coauthored an LA Times op-ed with Max Boot, both of whom also recently spent ten days in Afghanistan, reporting they saw "uneven but real progress." But Joshua Foust calls the piece "an appalling act of dishonesty," saying that their assertions of progress do not follow from concrete evidence. And Boot follows up by applauding the aforementioned Times article by Carlotta Gall detailing progress around Kandahar, while downplaying the other story by Alissa Rubin on the same page noting setbacks in the North.