With most eyes fixated on the Afghan presidential elections, the much more fateful event--the decision on whether to send even more U.S. troops to that beleaguered country--is heading toward the White House. There isn't much mystery about who will win those elections or their consequences. Hamid Karzai will keep the presidency and guarantee the persistence of a totally ineffectual and corrupt central government in Kabul. But the troop increase that new U.S. commander General Stanley McChrystal will recommend to President Barack Obama is still up in the air. And Obama's decision will determine whether the United States will move to turn the war over to the Afghans within the next three years or whether it will shoulder the burden of that war indefinitely.
Not even the smartest person in the world, not even the diviner of the most complicated novels, could possibly figure out how the U.S. military handles these situations without knowing how the U.S. military handles these situations. It is one of the great Kabuki games, or "now you see it now you don't" games. The White House asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who asked Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Michael Mullen, who asked General McChrystal (all with the involvement of CENTCOM regional commander David Petraeus), for an assessment of the military situation and a recommendation on whether additional U.S. forces will be required to meet the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. It all seems very straightforward... but it isn't. It's necessary to step back a little further, to paste in additional background, in order to see the games that are about to be played - and their consequences.