As President Obama nears his decision on how many additional
troops to send to Afghanistan, pundits are taking the opportunity
to explain the stakes. Earlier predictions placed
Obama's decision just before Thanksgiving, but he may be signaling a later date
to announce his decision. Earlier this week, he told
NBC's Chuck Todd, "I will announce my decision over the next several
weeks... I'm confident
that at the end of this process we will be able to present to the
American people in very clear terms what exactly is at stake." Whenever the decision comes, these are the factors that lie in the balance:
- American National Security Slate's Fred Kaplan evaluates
al-Qaeda's ability to launch another attack on America. "It is, of
course, this assumption that makes Americans at all
interested in the fate of Afghanistan. The main rationale for staying
in the war has always been that if Kabul fell to the Taliban, al-Qaida
terrorists would once again move in and use the country as a
'sanctuary' or 'safe haven' from which to plan attacks on the United
States, as they did on Sept. 11, 2001."
- Indo-Pakistan Nuclear War The New Yorker's Steve Coll reminds us
that the Taliban is "determined to wage war against India's secular,
Hindu-dominated democracy." The Lashkar-e-Taiba, which carried out the
bloody attacks in Mumbai, is one of the "Punjab-based, ardently
anti-Indian Islamist groups" that make up the Pakistani Taliban.
Successes by the Afghanistan Taliban would greatly empower such groups
to launch more and bigger attacks. India would have no choice but to
respond with military force, which "would present, repetitively, the
problem of managing the role of nuclear weapons in a prospective fourth
Afghan Human Rights The Huffington Post's Malou Innocent weighs
the human rights impacts of our presence versus our departure. "When
some people in Washington hear that nation-building in Afghanistan
is not a precondition to making America safer, or that prolonging our
presence undermines America's security, the argument for remaining then
shifts to preserving the security and human rights of the people of
Afghanistan," she writes. "The rationale for intervening in Afghanistan
was not the Taliban's human rights abuses."
- Breaking Corruption Cycle Foreign Policy's Thomas Ricks approvingly recounts a speech by author and military consultant David Kilcullen. "There are two real options in
Afghanistan: Either tell the Kabul government we are pulling out, or put in
enough troops to actually break the
cycle of corruption, which he said would be a minimum of about 40,000. 'We
either put in enough to control, or we get out.' The worst thing we could do,
he added, is put in enough troops to get more people killed but not enough to
do anything to break change the behavior of corrupt officials."
- Costs and Exit Date Spencer Ackerman points out
that both are absent from General Stanley McChrystal's war plan. "What
it doesn't contain is a sense that the war has to operate within
The closest McChrystal comes to a timeline is writing that 'failure to
gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term
(next 12 months) -- while Afghan security capacity matures -- risks an
outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible.' But
that's not the same thing as saying the war will end if those
12 months pass with Taliban momentum intact. And nowhere does it say
that the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan that he
commands has to operate within a budget of X billion dollars.
Meanwhile, pretty much every other policy discussion operates within
precisely that framework of time and expense."
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