Michael Crowley

The middle can be an awkward place. NRO's Cliff May attended a RAND conference on Afghanistan and didn't like what he heard from the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman: I stayed on to hear Sen. Carl Levin. He argued that in Afghanistan a “change in strategy is essential and more important than force levels.” His implication: We can have a change in strategy without increasing force levels. The new strategy we’re talking about is COIN — counterinsurgency. It is a strategy that Senator Levin opposed in Iraq, a point he neglected to mention....

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You have to wonder how much Joe Biden appreciates this detailed account from Obama's former campaign manager about how he became VP in a "coin toss" decision.

Andrew Exum flags a Washington Post commenter who took a pretty dim view of the Post's front-pager yesterday about Matthew Hoh, the civilian official in Afghanistan who resigned to protest America's presence there. First, I am currently serving in a PRT in Iraq. I trained with Matt in northern Virginia in April of this past year before we both moved on to our respective assignments. Matt is a smart young man who has honorably served his country, but by no means was or is he an expert on counterinsurgency, Afghan tribal culture, or U.S.

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Obama wants a study of the country at a micro-level. That seems reasonable enough in the abstract--but it's also coming a bit late. This, too, wasn't done during that January-March review? It also signals something less than a vote of total confidence in the judgment of the top U.S. commander on the ground, Stanley McChrystal. Moreover, it further indicates that we won't see a decision on troop levels in the next several days.

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I spoke to someone with military ties today who disdained the NYT's report this morning about a forming White House Afghanistan plan that would amount to  "McChrystal for the cities, Biden for the countryside." This person argued the story is misleading because McChrystal is already headed in this direction. Check out, for instance, this recent press release from the NATO forces in Afghanistan announcing a U.S.

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The strategy that dare not speak its name: The Obama administration is quietly laying the groundwork for long-range strategy that could be used to contain a nuclear-equipped Iran and deter its leaders from using atomic weapons. U.S. officials insist they are not resigned to a nuclear Iran and are pressing negotiations to prevent it from joining the world's nuclear club.

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Per some informed leaking to the NYT, it seems where Obama is headed. The critical question is whether you can be "Biden" in the countryside--i.e., conduct counterterrorism operations in low-population areas--without the substantial troop presence that gives you the human intelligence generally needed to strike furtive terrorists. If I'm Obama, the other thing I worry about is the intangible effect of Taliban gains in the countryside. Robert Gates, among others, has warned that substantial Taliban gains within the country--even short of toppling Kabul--would "empower" al Qaeda.

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Hmm, maybe this is why John Kerry didn't want to badmouth him: Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of the Afghan president and a suspected player in the country’s booming illegal opium trade, gets regular payments from the Central Intelligence Agency, and has for much of the past eight years, according to current and former American officials. You have to wonder what other unsavory things the CIA is up to in Afghanistan. Which may also be a reason why Barack Obama isn't too keen on digging deep into Bush-era agency practices. P.S.

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Iran Plays Games

The latest: A high-ranking Iranian official said that even if the country agreed to a United Nations-sponsored plan to ship its enriched uranium abroad for further processing, it would not send it all at once, Iranian news media reported Tuesday. This behavior would be consistent with a plan to jerk us around in the name of buying time.

Massie makes it: In other words, perhaps the negative consequences of making the "wrong" choice are greater than the benefits to be gained from making the "right" choice? That seems  unpleasantly possible. If that's the case then refusing to choose actually has a certain logic. The status quo may be imperfect but it is at least a known imperfection, not an unknown one.

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