Analyzing the Case for Afghanistan
Posted by Michael Cohen
Over at registan.net, Josh Foust has taken on the admirable and difficult job of making the case for staying the course in Afghanistan. He argues there are two strategic goals for the US mission:
- A basic minimal stability in Afghanistan, such that neither the Taliban nor al Qaeda is likely to develop a staging ground for international attacks, whether against neighboring countries or the United States and Europe;
- The permanent delegitimization of Pakistan’s insurgents, such that they can no longer push Pakistan and India toward nuclear conflict;
Number one is a compelling rationale for a US mission in Afghanistan - whether completing that mission needs to be done via robust counter-insurgency is something else altogether. In my view, it doesn't and I will try to tackle that point in a future post.
But to the second point, I'm not sure I completely understand Josh's argument. He explains it more here:
Now I certainly share the view that preventing nuclear conflict in South Asia is a vital American interest, less clear to me is why we need to fix Afghanistan to achieve that goal. Is the fear that if we leave, Afghanistan will become a proxy war for India and Pakistan that could turn into a full-fledged nuclear conflict? I suppose I have to ask where is the evidence for that. I know India is playing a more open role in Afghanistan, but does really rise to the level of proxy war? I do wonder how much of the "Indian influence" is being hyped by the Pakistani government. I'm just not seeing the direct and vital connection that Josh is making.
Josh goes on:
Again, it's important to prevent such a conflict from emerging, but why is it worth US blood and treasure? I'm actually quite serious here - I don't want to get all Chris Preble on Josh, but I really don't see why American troops have to be put in harm's way because a blow-up in Afghanistan might turn into a full-fledged India-Pakistan war. Why would the United States willingly hold itself and its soldiers hostage to an unresolved regional conflict? And are there really no other options - for example, diplomatic - for preventing such a war than "fixing" Afghanistan?
But there is something else about this argument that troubles me. Josh alleges that the big danger is if insurgents bored from the Afghanistan fight will try to spark a confrontation between India and Pakistan. I'm not clear as to why Afghan Taliban would in the wake of a US withdrawal want to get involved with the fight for Kashmir (did that happen from 1996-2001?) but the bigger question is that didn't jihadist terror groups already try to spark that conflict last November in the Mumbai attacks that killed 173 people? Not to minimize those horrific attacks, but even though the jihadists behind the Mumbai attacks were based in Pakistan - and probably backed by the ISI - it didn't spark a military escalation between the two countries. What would be different if we left Afghanistan?
But I will say one thing, if THIS is the rationale for staying I can understand "why even the war supporters cannot articulate them." I seriously doubt most Americans believe that we should be fighting a war in Afghanistan so that India and Pakistan don't fight one in the future.
I ask these questions not to tweak Josh, but I'm actually curious to hear his answers. So I look forward to the debate.