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Lee Hamilton Questions Afghanistan Plan

As David Ignatius noted earlier this year, the views of former Congressman Lee Hamilton hold considerable sway within the Obama national security team. Hamilton, a member of the 9/11 Commission and the Iraq Study Group, has emerged as a Democratic foreign policy mandarin in recent years, and also, in Laura Rozen's words "a kind of wise-man mentor to Obama." Obama, for instance, dined with Hamilton a few days before his inauguration back in January. (Bolstering the connection: Several key national security council aides are former staffers for the Indiana Democrat. They include NSC utility man and Obama confidante Denis McDonough, speechwriter Ben Rhodes, and NSC senior director Dan Shapiro.)

That's why it's worth noting Hamilton's eyebrow-raising column today about the trajectory of America's war in Afghanistan--which, while largely cautious and even platitudinious, winds up being  surprisingly equivocal about Obama's current strategy. "To be successful," Hamilton writes, "U.S. policy will have to become clear, forceful and well resourced." Note the future tense--Hamilton says we're not there yet. 

More striking is his final paragraph (with emphasis added): 

Strategically, there are two broad and fundamental questions to be answered. First, how will our departure impact our regional and security interests over the next decade and longer? And second, is this type of war really the best use of American power and resources in today's world?

Although Hamilton, as part of the Iraq Study Group, supported withdrawal from Iraq and engagement with Iran, he is no Code Pink liberal; rather, he is a good barometer of foreign-policy establishment thinking. That Hamilton is asking such a question gives you a pretty clear idea of where the Afghanistan debate is now headed. 

--Michael Crowley