WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's new strategy for the flagging Afghan war is largely the handiwork of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who developed the idea of sending U.S. reinforcements and then helped persuade administration officials to support it.
The president's decision to deploy 30,000 new troops and largely maintain the current American counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan is a strong endorsement of the defense secretary's views.
At the same time, the new U.S. approach is a repudiation of skeptics like Vice President Joe Biden, who favored sending few or no additional troops and shifting the U.S. mission in Afghanistan toward killing or capturing individual militant leaders.
The result is that Gates, a Bush administration holdover, will be more closely identified with the outcome of the Afghan war than he ever was with the Iraq war, whose strategy was largely set by then-President George W. Bush and his military advisers before Gates took the helm of the Pentagon in December 2006. If the new strategy is unable to turn the tide in Afghanistan, Mr. Gates will likely be blamed for developing a losing strategy.
"Everyone talks about Afghanistan is Obama's war, but it's really Gates's war now in a way that it never was before," said a military official with recent experience in Afghanistan who is supportive of Gates's strategy. "Gates has the commander he wants, the troops he wants, and the strategy he wants. He'll get a lot of credit if we win, and a lot of the blame if we don't."
Gates is a Republican with strong support on Capitol Hill, and administration officials hope the defense chief will be able to sell the new strategy to lawmakers uneasy about the cost of the war, as well as the White House's embrace of a timetable for winding down the conflict.