Might this be the best possible middle road? It sure seems to beat the hell out of "muddling through," the other non-drawdown, non-escalation path currently being advocated by some people, in which we'd, uh, just keep doing what we're doing (because that seems effective).
President Obama’s advisers are focusing on a strategy for Afghanistan aimed at protecting about 10 top population centers, administration officials said Tuesday, describing an approach that would stop short of an all-out assault on the Taliban while still seeking to nurture long-term stability.
Mr. Obama has yet to make a decision and has other options available to him, but as officials described it, the debate is no longer over whether to send more troops, but how many more will be needed. The question of how much of the country should fall
under the direct protection of American and NATO forces will be central to deciding how many troops will be sent.
At the moment, the administration is looking at protecting Kabul, Kandahar, Mazar-i-Sharif, Kunduz, Herat, Jalalabad and a few other village clusters, officials said. The first of any new troops sent to Afghanistan would be assigned to Kandahar, the Taliban’s spiritual capital, seen as a center of gravity in pushing back insurgent advances.
The best line in the whole story cites one official calling the plan "McChrystal for the city, Biden for the country."
Of course, if this approach is adopted, there will be critics who object to the "abandonment" of parts of the country, and others who question the effectiveness of a sequential, oil spots approach. Bernard Finel has raised some reasonable questions on this point here, and I hope to discuss them a bit more in the near future.
As I've indicated over the last several weeks, I'm not convinced of the strategic necessity of this Afghan campaign, or that a pacified Afghanistan is vital to the maintenance of American security. I'm skeptical about the chances for success of a broad-based and open-ended COIN campaign in the region, and I think a massive, extended resource commitment to Afghanistan is a pretty bad idea. That said, I appreciate the political challenge that this poses for the President. I think it would be nearly impossible at this stage for him to seriously consider a substantial drawdown or redefinition of the mission (as much as I would welcome those things). So in the meantime, maybe this is the least-bad option...?