A veteran Republican lawmaker is imploring President Barack Obama to establish a bipartisan study group to rethink the Afghanistan war strategy.
In a letter to the president last week, Rep. Frank Wolf of Virginia said, "We are nine years into our nation's longest running war and the American people and their elected representatives do not have a clear sense of what we are aiming to achieve."
Wolf, who is serving his 15th term in Congress, urged Obama to sign an executive order that would create an Afghanistan-Pakistan Study Group to assess the ongoing war strategy.
In March 2006, Wolf helped create the Iraq Study Group
, a panel of 10 defense and policy experts from both sides of the aisle who examined the war effort. The group was co-sponsored by the U.S. Institute of Peace, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and the Center for the Study of the Presidency in Washington, as well as the Baker Public Policy Institute at Rice University in Houston.
While the study group's recommendations were never fully embraced by the Bush administration, the panel managed to change the debate, said Lee Hamilton, the former Democratic Indiana congressman and co-chair of the Iraq Study Group. Despite President George W. Bush's initial hesitation toward the group, "his statements became much more realistic about the situation in Iraq" after it made its recommendations, Hamilton said.
"It gave President Bush a sense of just how badly his policies were faring," said Kori Schake, who was defense strategy director for the National Security Council during Bush's first term and is now fellow at the Hoover Institution, a public policy think-tank at Stanford University.
"It seems to me that the more debate we have about why we're fighting the war, what the way to win it is, and what the cost and consequences of [it] are, the better off we are," she said.
Lawrence Kolb, senior fellow at the American Center for Progress, thinks the timing is wrong for an Afghanistan-Pakistan study group. Kolb, a former assistant secretary of defense, noted that the 2006 study group formed before Bush's troop surge took shape. At the time, no one quite knew what strategic direction the war would take, so forming a study group seemed like a good idea.
In contrast, Obama's strategy is clear: American troops will begin leaving Afghanistan by next summer. But, Kolb said, if Obama reduces troops to lower-than-expected numbers or he decides to push back the withdrawal date by a couple of years, "then you might see a [study] group." Otherwise, it's simply too early to know whether the administration's war strategy is working, he said.
But David Abshire, president of the Center for the Study of the Presidency, a non-partisan policy and education organization, notes that the time Obama has to prove his strategy is already running out.
"People on the right, left and center are now talking against the war," said Abshire, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO. Critics of the war want to see things change now, not in a couple of years.
Vice President Joe Biden has announced that a formal internal assessment of the strategy is scheduled for December.
Several national security strategists agree that an Afghanistan-Pakistan study group could be a good thing, but the results of such a group may or may not help.
Hamilton, who is director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, noted that just because a study group forms does not mean anyone is going to listen to it.
"A group of this sort does not instantly have credibility," Hamilton said. "You establish that, in part, through its membership, but I think, even more important, you establish it by the seriousness and competence that you show in going about your work."