Afghanistan: Obama makes a decision

President approves plan to increase the number of troops

And the magic number of incremental troops is 17,000, which is a 50% increase and less than the nearly 25,000 that had been bandied about in some reports late last year. But the NYT reports that this decision — acceding to requests from commanders in the field without implementing a truly historic boost — merely “postpones” a final decision on whether to increase the deployment still further.

So the new president’s caution on what his administration has already defined as his most pressing foreign-policy file is striking. As to whether it’s wise or too tentative, I will wait until everything’s over and then claim, with hindsight, to have known what the right answer was all along.

Defence Secretary Bob Gates seems to be a substantial influence here. He has argued that it’s possible to have too many troops in the Afghan theatre, and that that would actually play against the goals of counter-insurgency by making Americans too heavy a presence. Or I could swear he’s made that kind of argument in the recent past, but now I can’t find any quotes to back me up. Inkless Irregulars, can you do a better job looking than I just did?

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