Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Time to "hold until relieved" --
The "realist" case for US departure from Afghanistan

Policy shops that would call themselves "realist" don't deal in messy stuff like children blown to bits, homes and livelihoods destroyed, ancient cultures ripped apart. They peddle antiseptic, "tough-minded," "manly" assessments of national interests, to hell with the human consequences. In a better world, this kind of "realism" would be understood as a mental disorder, a social pathology that falsely separates human experience and needs from policy prescriptions. But in our world, "realists" give advice to Presidents.

Here's the current Stratfor assessment of the United States' excellent Afghan adventure:

The best argument for fighting in Afghanistan is powerful and similar to the one for fighting in Iraq: credibility. The abandonment of either country will create a powerful tool in the Islamic world for jihadists to argue that the United States is a weak power. Withdrawal from either place without a degree of political success could destabilize other regimes that cooperate with the United States. Given that, staying in either country has little to do with strategy and everything to do with the perception of simply being there.

The best argument against fighting in either country is equally persuasive. The jihadists are right: The United States has neither the interest nor forces for long-term engagements in these countries. American interests go far beyond the Islamic world, and there are many present (to say nothing of future) threats from outside the region that require forces. Overcommitment in any one area of interest at the expense of others could be even more disastrous than the consequences of withdrawal.

In our view, Obama's decision depends not on choosing between McChrystal's strategy and others, but on a careful consideration of how to manage the consequences of withdrawal. An excellent case can be made that now is not the time to leave Afghanistan, and we expect Obama to be influenced by that thinking far more than by the details of McChrystal's strategy. As McChrystal himself points out, there are many unknowns and many risks in his own strategy; he is guaranteeing nothing.

Reducing American national strategy to the Islamic world, or worse, Afghanistan, is the greater threat. Nations find their balance, and the heavy pressures on Obama in this decision basically represent those impersonal forces battering him. The question he must ask himself is simple: In what way is the future of Afghanistan of importance to the United States? The answer that securing it will hobble al Qaeda is simply wrong. U.S. Afghan policy will not stop a global terrorist organization; terrorists will just go elsewhere. The answer that U.S. involvement in Afghanistan is important in shaping the Islamic world's sense of American power is better, but even that must be taken in context of other global interests.

Obama does not want this to be his war. He does not want to be remembered for Afghanistan the way George W. Bush is remembered for Iraq or Lyndon Johnson is for Vietnam. Right now, we suspect Obama plans to demonstrate commitment, and to disengage at a more politically opportune time. Johnson and Bush showed that disengagement after commitment is nice in theory.

For our part, we do not think there is an effective strategy for winning in Afghanistan, but that McChrystal has proposed a good one for "hold until relieved." We suspect that Obama will hold to show that he gave the strategy a chance, but that the decision to leave won't be too far off.

My emphasis. How many more Afghans and their invaders have to die for this ill-conceived mistake?

1 comment:

Darlene said...

Excellent post. If people had to see their children blown to bits or their homes destroyed they would no longer want a war.

A real war of necessity (WWII) is horrible enough, but this misguided mess that Bush got us into is beyond belief. It is un-winnable so why must more die for an insane reason?

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