An interesting STRATFOR report. Stratfor are known for 2 predominat reporting traits: -Strong proponents of the "Rational Actor" Theory - i.e. everything that happens is intended -Excellent Washington insight. This report is well within their core areas of comfort and may be interesting writing on the wall. PREPARING FOR A PULLBACK? ON MONDAY, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ROBERT GATES called on all those advising President Barack Obama over the appropriate strategy for Afghanistan to do so "candidly but privately." It is hard to imagine that this admonishment is not directed at Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, whose draft assessment of the mission in Afghanistan (one of several perspectives being considered within the White House), as well as his proposals for the mission, were leaked to the press last month. McChrystal also spoke to the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London on that very subject late last week. Gates' statement followed National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones' CNN interview on Sunday that appeared, among other things, to present a very different perspective on the urgency of the situation in Afghanistan. On the surface, a dispute appears to be emerging between a triumvirate of key senior military officers -- McChrystal's plan has been endorsed by U.S. Central Command chief Gen. David Petraeus and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen -- seeking to broaden the scope of the war, and Obama's secretary of defense and national security adviser, who very clearly do not agree. "If al Qaeda in Afghanistan -- the political and military reason the United States went into the country in the first place -- is no longer a threat, what is the U.S. role and mission in Afghanistan?" The crux of the issue is buried within this emerging dispute. More important than the fact that he was giving a starkly different perspective on Afghanistan than the senior commanding officer there, Jones effectively declared al Qaeda -- as it existed in 2001 â to be dead and defeated. He explicitly said that al Qaeda elements in Afghanistan had no ability to launch attacks on the United States or its allies. In other words, the question that no senior official in Washington has asked now has been raised: If al Qaeda in Afghanistan -- the political and military reason the United States went into the country in the first place -- is no longer a threat, what is the U.S. role and mission in Afghanistan? What, exactly, are the 68,000 American troops currently on the ground there doing? There are many answers to that question. On one hand, the Taliban supported al Qaeda, and the United States is engaged not only with al Qaeda but with a radical Islamist ideology. Indeed, the Taliban have already replaced al Qaeda in almost every mention of combat involving U.S., NATO or Afghan forces. But if the United States and NATO are fighting the Taliban, to what end? Many answers to that question -- like "sanctuary denial" and "counterterrorism"-- not only require a very different force structure than is currently in place (read: considerably smaller) but are also global missions â global missions for which having so many troops committed to Afghanistan can represent considerable opportunity costs elsewhere. By most accounts, McChrystal is a sharp and capable military leader. It is not only his prerogative as senior commander in Afghanistan but his job to turn the tide against any and all opposition there -- to seek as long-term and lasting a solution as possible to problems like internal security. To do that, he has outlined a long-term operational strategy and asked for what appears to be essentially as many troops as the Pentagon conceivably might give him. But the White House has a different role: American grand strategy. It is the executive that is responsible not only for Afghanistan but for balancing American resources across a series of geopolitical challenges, from a resurgent Russia to Iran. The president must decide what he wants to accomplish in Afghanistan, given the spectrum of challenges and what resources can be allocated to that mission. It should be no surprise that the role and perspective of the senior military commander in Afghanistan and the president of the United States might produce different answers to the question of the appropriate American strategy. Afghanistan is a war that the Obama administration inherited, and the circumstances there have gone from bad to worse to worse yet in only a year's time. Some of the president's closest advisers now appear to be laying the groundwork for a White House decision on the Afghan strategy that does not match with McChrystal's request. Copyright 2009 Stratfor.