Eight years ago today, George W. Bush addressed
the nation to announce military actions in Afghanistan. "On my orders,
the United States military has begun strikes
against al Qaeda terrorist training camps and military installations
of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan," he said from the White House.
"The battle is now joined on many fronts. We will not waiver, we
will not tire, we will not falter, and we will not fail. Peace and
freedom will prevail." Today, as American casualties near 800
and President Obama refuses
to withdraw troops from what is increasingly called "Obama's War
," the questions of how to finally succeed
, and whether we can at all, weigh heavily. What will our time and blood yield?
- Treat Afghanistan like North Korea Foreign Policy's Dan Reiter says
we must abandon the WWII-era mentality that total military dominance
achieves victory. "Eight years later, Afghanistan has
neither stability nor democracy, much less prosperity," he writes.
"Total victory, in the
sense of complete military success followed by the complete elimination
threat, is not a viable U.S. policy option in the 21st century. War is
unlikely to bring security. But security can be had without war."
Reiter proposes North Korea and Iran as models of states that, though
clearly less than ideal, maintain peaceful if tense relations with the
U.S. built on sanctions, inspections, and negotiations. "Americans do
not die in the
course of diplomacy or inspections. The United States will not spend a
dollars executing economic sanctions. And, these approaches do not spur
anti-Americanism, and like it or not there is an important 'popularity
contest' element to the war on terror."
- We Picked the Wrong Battlefield The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg repeats his call
to reconsider fighting in Afghanistan when both al Qaeda and the
Islamist movement it represents are creations of Arabs. "Afghanistan
did not produce the terrorists who perpetrated the 9/11
attacks, nor did it have a central role in the creation of the ideology
of those terrorists," he writes. "A more central front is Pakistan;
more central front is Yemen. Cairo, London and Paris are also central
fronts. Iran is a central front of a different sort. And yes, Iraq is a
central front. But Afghanistan?" He sighs, "Victory in Afghanistan
won't do much to change what is essentially an Arab problem."
- What's 'Acceptable Activity'? Spencer Ackerman, reacting to the rising use of drones and high-value-target assassination, stresses "the need for the nation to come to an actual consensus
on what's acceptable activity here. It has to be as open as possible,
with as much congressional support as possible, and as much public
support as possible. (I recall a certain DFHer general saying, 'At the end of the day, we would be in much worse shape to have a
decision made without that level of public debate.')" he writes. "I'm not really sure what legal
impediments are actually in place here that would endanger the
warfighters or the intelligence operatives, and certainly Congress
hasn't received word of them."
- If Al Qaeda Left, So Should We Dday asks,
why bother staying? "We know right now that there are no signs of Al
Qaeda in Afghanistan," he writes, citing Generals Petraeus and
McChrystal as well as Obama's statement
that al Qaeda has "lost operational capacity" there. He also cites a
report that the Taliban controls 80% of the country. "So
the Taliban has been in control of at least half the country for at
least two years, more than enough time for Al Qaeda to pack up from the
border region and reinstall themselves into these safe havens," he
writes. "This persistent lie about Al Qaeda's aims in the region
entire case for escalation, just the way the domino theory underpinned
consistent troop buildup in Vietnam. And yet nobody in the media, up to
and including Chris Matthews today, has bothered to challenge this
- Look to Pakistan Herlan Ullman of the Atlantic Council explains
why Pakistan is more important than Afghanistan and what we can do
about it. "In this debate over Afghanistan, Pakistan should dominate
and our future actions. Whether the Karzai government falls or stands,
a stable Pakistan is still the only barrier to contain the spread of
jihadi-backed violence," Ullman writes. "Pakistan's military still does
not have the equipment for fighting and
winning the battle against the insurgency it is waging. [...] as
Pakistan faces dangers from both the east and west, India's
increased defense spending and decision to field higher yield nuclear
weapons will reinforce Pakistani arguments that regard the existential
threat emanating from India.
- Decide What Success Means Marc Lynch insists
that the many-sided Afghan debate must find consensus on how to measure
success "Is there any serious reason to believe that the current
whether 40,000 or some other figure -- will be adequate to the task?"
he asks. "For everyone involved in the debate -- including me -- what
developments, metrics, or events would lead you to change your mind?
What are the things which, if observed over the next year, would lead
you to support a different policy? For me, it's perhaps the
consolidation of a more legitimate Afghan political order and stronger
evidence that Afghans and Pakistanis shared America's conception of
interests. For Steve Biddle yesterday, it was the opposite: evidence
that 12-18 months of sustained American efforts had not improved Afghan
governance or political legitimacy. For Nagl, it was Pakistan giving
up its nuclear weapons."
- Partner With China Robert Kaplan argues
in the New York Times that the U.S. and China should be natural allies
in Afghanistan. "In Afghanistan, American and Chinese interests
converge. By exploiting
Afghanistan’s metal and mineral reserves, China can provide thousands
of Afghans with jobs, thus generating tax revenues to help stabilize a
tottering Kabul government. Just as America has a vision of a modestly
stable Afghanistan that will no longer be a haven for extremists, China
has a vision of Afghanistan as a secure conduit for roads and energy
pipelines that will bring natural resources from the Indian Ocean and
elsewhere. So if America defeats Al Qaeda and the irreconcilable
elements of the Taliban, China’s geopolitical position will be
- More Troops on the Ground, As Long as Needed Sarah Palin joins
those calling for a sustained troop increase. "We can win in
Afghanistan by helping the Afghans build a stable
representative state able to defend itself. And we must do what it
takes to prevail. The stakes are very high. The 9/11 attacks were
planned in Afghanistan, and if we are not successful there, al Qaeda
will once again find a safe haven, the Taliban will impose its cruelty
on the Afghan people, and Pakistan will be less stable," she writes.
"Now is not the time for cold feet, second thoughts, or indecision --
is the time to act as commander-in-chief and approve the troops so
clearly needed in Afghanistan." She joins a long list of commentators.
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