Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Reality on Afghanistan

Reality on Afghanistan

I love Afghanistan and its people, I really do, but I love my own country more. We need to get realistic about what can and what can not be accomplished there. We are currently engaged in a conflict that we can not win, in fact we do not even know what victory might look like if we achieved it. We certainly have been offered no strategic vision of what the end game might be.

The ever reliable Ralph Peters describes the options we have before us in Afghanistan, and his suggestion of which to pursue, in today's USA Today. The options, as Peters sees them:
Ranked from best to worst, here are our four basic options going forward:

Best. Instead of increasing the U.S. military "footprint," reduce our forces and those of NATO by two-thirds, maintaining a "mother ship" at Bagram Air Base and a few satellite bases from which special operations troops, aircraft and drones, and lean conventional forces would strike terrorists and support Afghan factions with whom we share common enemies. All resupply for our military could be done by air, if necessary.

Stop pretending Afghanistan's a real state. Freeze development efforts. Ignore the opium. Kill the fanatics.

Good. Leave entirely. Strike terrorist targets from over the horizon and launch punitive raids when necessary. Instead of facing another Vietnam ourselves, let Afghanistan become a Vietnam for Iran and Pakistan. Rebuild our military at home, renewing our strategic capabilities.

Poor. Continue to muddle through as is, accepting that achieving any meaningful change in Afghanistan is a generational commitment. Surge troops for specific missions, but not permanently.

Worst. Augment our forces endlessly and increase aid in the absence of a strategy. Lie to ourselves that good things might just happen. Let U.S. troops and Afghans continue to die for empty rhetoric, while Pakistan decays into a vast terrorist refuge.
For the rest, read the whole thing. Note that Peters offers no advice to the president on how to accomplish this strategic realignment. Obama campaigned on ending the war in Iraq and beefing up the effort in Afghanistan. The Iraq occupation is resolving itself, but Afghanistan will offer the president no such easy option. The peace-at-any-cost crowd will be behind any military retrenchment, especially in Afghanistan. The left side of his party is already making noise about how he should pull out, so the republicans will make quite a noise if he appears to accede to their wishes. He would be accused of claiming to buttress our effort in Afghanistan as a campaign ploy that he finds disposable.

Obama is learning that campaign mode, where he could conform his message to his audience, does not work when in office, where any decision is clear for all to see. This is not an easy job, being president, and it will not get easier for him. Difficult choices must be made, but no matter what he does in Afghanistan, he will be wrong in the eyes of a tremendous number of Americans. But even doing nothing is a decision to be made. Whatever he does, it is better done sooner rather than later.