On Afghanistan

Thinking about President Obama’s Afghanistan escalation, I’m not sure it can work. I’m not sure that years of Bush’s neglect and mismanagement can be reversed at this point. It’s possible that Afghanistan is so corrupt and divided by now that no military or diplomatic maneuvers by the United States can fix it.

I vehemently opposed the surge in Iraq, for a variety of reasons. Iraq was a highly-unstable country deeply divided along sectarian lines; the war there had nothing to do with 9/11 and wasn’t intrinsically linked to our national security; the enemy there lacked the means to attack the United States; escalation threatened to further strengthen Iran.

Afghanistan is different. Even though they are divided and violent, they are far less so than Iraq was overall; Afghanistan had everything to do with 9/11; eliminating violent extremism there is directly related to—and beneficial for—the national security of the United States; I don’t think I need to make the case that the enemy in Afghanistan does pose the ability to harm the United States; failure in Afghanistan would pose to destabilize nuclear Pakistan.

Terrorism is an ideology. It’s a tactic. There’s no way it can be eliminated through war—in fact, that only tends to increase it. The best we can hope for is to break up terrorist networks to the point where they can no longer carry out attacks, and to create stability and democracy to prevent such networks from regrowing.

We’ve done a good job of breaking up the terrorist networks in Afghanistan, but I’m sure there’s more we could do on that front. In terms of stability and democracy, I’m not sure how tenable those goals are or whether the United States can achieve them (through military or any other means).

What I fear is that Afghanistan turns into Iraq, where the deadline passes with our goals unmet and the Obama administration keeps our troops there, leading to a perpetual delaying process of broken and pushed-back deadlines all in the interest of trying to reach untenable goals. The fact that Obama has set deadlines is heartening, but then we must stick to those deadlines.  This will only become a quagmire if we allow ourselves to become bogged down in it.

In the end, though, we must remember that the Afghanistan war raged for 8 years before Obama took office. If success in Afghanistan is not possible, it was because those who launched and managed it for those 8 years failed. If this does not work, let us place the blame where it belongs.

And, in the end, our President deserves credit for trying to do the right thing and making the best of a poor situation; for taking a risk worth taking. Of that, at the very least, I’m certain.