Posted by Wordsmith on 8 October, 2009 at 11:07 am. 19 comments already!


Would that “win” us a “watered down” (re: semblance of) victory?

It sounds like President Obama might be looking to have it both ways on Afghanistan.

A U.S Marine from Delta Company of 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion patrols near the town of Khan Neshin in Rig district of Helmand province, southern Afghanistan September 8, 2009.

The “demoralizing” results of the recent Afghan election- with allegations of fraud, both real and perceived, has been an enormous setback. The Afghans are losing faith in the new government and the Taliban are emboldened. This has contributed to President Obama’s reassessment of the way forward in Afghanistan:

Asked why Obama is questioning a key assumption of his Afghanistan strategy just six months after he stood before a bank of flags and endorsed the white paper, administration spokesmen have cited the potential impact on counterinsurgency efforts of the country’s fraud-riddled presidential election in August. They have also noted that Obama said in March that he would review whether the United States was “using the right tools and tactics to make progress.”

Meanwhile, four days after two combat outposts were overrun, leaving 8 U.S. and 4 Afghan soldiers dead, the Taliban is claiming that it has raised a flag over Nuristan in response to the NATO claim that over 100 insurgents were killed during that attack.

The Taliban are not the only ones who are influenced by America’s perceived weakness (and the apparent lack of resolve on the part of the current administration to outlast and defeat them).

Pakistan has been making recent gains and newfound courage in facing down Taliban militants and al Qaeda; but this “dithering” on the part of President Obama is creating a loss of confidence in America’s willingness to outlast the enemy’s resolve when the going gets tough.

Dan Twining:

As Chris Brose and I recently argued, it is vital for the West to prevail in Afghanistan because of its effect in shaping Pakistan’s strategic future. Proponents of drawing down in Afghanistan on the grounds that Pakistan is the more important strategic prize have it only half right: if Pakistan is the strategic prize, it should be unthinkable not to press for victory in Afghanistan given the spillover effects of a Western defeat there. All of Pakistan’s pathologies — from terrorist sanctuary in ungoverned spaces, to radicalized public opinion that creates an enabling environment for violent extremism, to lack of economic opportunity that incentivizes militancy, to the (in)security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, to the military’s oversized role in political life in ways that stunt the development of civilian institutions — all of this will intensify should Afghanistan succumb to the Taliban as the West withdraws.

These dynamics, in turn, will destabilize India in ways that could torpedo the country’s rise to world power — and the strategic dividends America would reap from India’s success. New Delhi is now a truer proponent of Washington’s original objectives in Afghanistan — the Taliban’s decisive defeat by military force rather than reconciliation and the construction of a capable Afghan democracy — than some American leaders are now. Afghanistan is in India’s backyard — they shared a border until 1947 — and the collapse of its government would destabilize Pakistan in ways that would quickly cost Indian dearly. Indian strategists fear that the spillover from a Taliban victory in Afghanistan would induce Pakistan’s “Lebanonization,” with the Pakistani Taliban becoming a kind of South Asian Hezbollah that would launch waves of crippling attacks against India. India cannot rise to be an Asian balancer, global security provider, and engine of the world economy if it is mired in interminable proxy conflict with terrorists emanating from a weak or collapsing state armed with nuclear weapons on its border.

Pakistan’s government is already wavering in it’s confidence over the new administration, due to the “dithering” and appearance of a lack of resolve to “win” in Afghanistan. The talk of whether or not to narrow the focus to counterterrorism operations rather than on counterinsurgency has the propagandistic perception of a Black Hawk Down type of retreat by this administration. Trying to save costs and conduct war “cheaper and smarter” comes across as another name for being risk-averse and half-assed in commitment.

Stephen M. Walt, who supports the narrower approach, also deplores the “middle ground” position:

President Obama has reportedly ruled out a major reduction in U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and is still mulling over the military’s request for more troops. The LA Times says he’s looking for “middle ground” here, which would be consistent with Obama’s decision-making style. In this case, however, it’s the worst of a set of bad options. If things eventually go south (as I believe they will), he’ll get blamed for not giving the commanders enough to do the job and for incurring additional costs to no good purpose.

Looking for “an exit strategy” is not the right mentality; nor does it send the correct message to our enemies nor to our allies. The way the debate should be framed is: What is the strategy needed to defeat both the al Qaeda NETWORK and the Taliban?

And a “middle ground” commitment seems to be a recipe for dithering disaster. Better to pick one or the other. Not a “moderate” position, which is just a dilution of either roadmap.

Robert Kaplan (author of Imperial Grunts and Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts) has an interesting article in the NYTimes today (which Stephen Walt also comments on in his post that I linked to), regarding what countries stand to benefit from our stay and success in Afghanistan, and how we don’t have a choice but stay and succeed. He also concludes:

one could make an excellent case that an ignominious withdrawal from Afghanistan is precisely what would lead to our decline, by demoralizing our military, signaling to our friends worldwide that we cannot be counted on and demonstrating that our enemies have greater resolve than we do. That is why we have no choice in Afghanistan but to add troops and continue to fight.

But as much as we hone our counterinsurgency skills and develop assets for the “long war,” history would suggest that over time we can more easily preserve our standing in the world by using naval and air power from a distance when intervening abroad. Afghanistan should be the very last place where we are a land-based meddler, caught up in internal Islamic conflict, helping the strategic ambitions of the Chinese and others.

An Light Armor Vehicle (LAV) travels through Helmand province with the solar eclipse visible in the background on July 22.
Nikki Kahn-The Washington Post

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