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September 04, 2009

Can Someone Please Describe Victory in Afghanistan For Me?
Posted by Michael Cohen

You know, I recognize the fact that I could be completely wrong in everything I've written about Afghanistan - perhaps the security risks of an al Qaeda safe haven in Afghanistan necessitate the US maintaining a long-term presence in the country. Perhaps the risk of instability in Af/Pak is so great that US troops must maintain a presence for the foreseeable future. Perhaps we have a moral responsibility to stay the course.

Perhaps all of this is true. Perhaps I am wrong. But at least, I believe, I am being reasonably honest about what we can accomplish or what is realistic in Afghanistan. The same cannot be said of the armchair generals who continue to sound off the same empty platitudes about staying the course.

I am really sick and tired of listening to people like Michael Gerson tell me that we have "No Choice But To Try" in Afghanistan - and then simply refuse to tell me what victory looks like.  He's not alone. Yesterday Max Boot wrote paragraph after paragraph in the Wall Street Journal about "How To Win in Afghanistan" and nowhere in this chest-thumping screed could he be bothered with explaining what winning actually means. Tony Cordesman tells the world, here is How We Lose in Afghanistan, but can't be hassled with an explanation of how victory is achieved. Pete Wehner doesn't bother to do much more then accuse war critics of losing nerve.

Max Boot argues that the U.S. pullout from Lebanon and Somalia lad Osama bin Laden to "label us a weak horse that could be attacked with impunity." So Max are you suggesting we should have stayed in Lebanon and Somalia forever because we couldn't dare show weakness to some guy who lives in a cave? To read Boot is to believe we can never quit a conflict because of how it might "look" to the bad guys. And if Boot can't define victory or give a sense of what winning means then why should I listen to a word he says - because his recipe for American foreign policy is perpetual, unending war.

Enough already. If you can't define victory, if you can't explain what the end game looks like, if you can't say when the US role in Afghanistan will end; if you can't explain how the current US mission in Afghanistan can be achieved, if you're Michael Gerson and you write this:

This involves expanding the Afghan army, partnering American troops with Afghan forces, better protecting population centers, coordinating military advances with civilian development efforts, strengthening local governance and mastering the endless intricacies of a tribal culture. The effort will require more troops, more resources and more patience from a tired nation -- and perhaps, to get serious results in 2010, an emergency war supplemental appropriation from Congress.

 . . . and you can't be bothered with understanding or explaining how any of this grandiose vision is realistic or achievable - then why should anyone listen to you. None of these goals were achieved when the president that Mike Gerson worked for was in the White House, so what makes Gerson believe that any of it is achievable now? Gerson  evenhas the unmitigated chutzpah to write this:

It is not a serious strategy to exaggerate American obstacles in Afghanistan, to discount hopeful alternatives, and to speak with airy vagueness about how it will all work out if we retreat

But it IS a serious strategy to present a Panglossian view of what can be achieved in Afghanistan against 8 years of experience to the contrary. This would be nothing more than a joke if it wasn't dominating the current political debate on Afghanistan.

I understand that people believe that Afghanistan is vital to America's national interests - I'm even sympathetic to the argument. But these people need to a better job of not only explaining why, but also  how and they need to offer a vision of what an end game looks like. Calling people wussies because they think it might be time to recognize that our capabilities don't match our intentions is not an intellectually honest way to engage in this debate.


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Can Someone Please Describe Victory in Afghanistan For Me?

Whatever it is, it's proponents seem united on the idea that it is going to take a very, very, very long time.

Their conception of the US role in Afghanistan sometimes seems to be that of a long-term, pro bono security contractor. I guess the idea is that we stay for 10 years, or 20 years, or 30 years, and that for every month that the Afghan government doesn't fall, and for every acre that we exclude from Taliban influence, we become slightly more victorious.

Despite the frequently voiced suggestion that the Obama administration has somehow dropped the War on Terror from the national security agenda, there is in fact little evidence so far that they are any less committed to fighting "The Long War" than their predecessors. The idea seems to be that we have to stay out in the field fighting "the terrorists" - which apparently means militant Salafi Islamists - wherever the terrorists happen to be located, until that distant sunny day when there are no longer any terrorists.

I think we have all underestimated just how deeply ingrained the quasi-religious commitment to the more-or-less permanent Long War has become in our nation's national security establishment. They don't see operations in Afghanistan as a single, detachable war with a narrowly definable war aim and definition of victory. They see it in epochal and global terms as just one front or battlefield in an enduring permanent struggle that is partly constitutive of the very purpose of the United States, and that ideologically defines it in the post 9/11 world.

victory is when afghanistan and pakistan can reliably secure and provide for themselves.

this isn't rocket science here, people! an exhaustive and detailed bluebrint for doing this is the Afghan National Development Strategy. We know how to effectively apply civilian resources (as per the ANDS), and we know how to apply military resources (as per the FM). let's start actually doing it now, instead of just paying lip service to it...

incidentally, this is exactly what we need with germany and japan after ww2. we've done this before under much more difficult circumstances. let's do it again.

I'd say victory is we have not had any major terrorist attacks in the US since. The Taliban and AlQaeda have been on the run and not able to focus on carrying out their evil deads. That could be one definition of success in Afghanistan depending on how you look at it. :-)

Perhaps the worst aspect of the "Long War" in Afghanistan is that it surrenders control of our foreign military policy to any dedicated terrorist group. If we're to obsessively chase a fantasy of killing every terrorist in that part of the world, then it takes a very small investment by a group of stateless guerrillas to keep the world's largest military tied up indefinitely.

After the WTC attack in 1993, Pres. Clinton's administration's aggressive pursuit of terrorists (using international law enforcement techniques) put bad guys in prison -- with due process -- and perhaps prevented any other major terrorist attacks in the U.S. (from foreign sources) for the rest of his time in office, all without spending a trillion dollars and killing tens of thousands of people. That sounds like a better victory.

Also, people like Gerson are using the fallacy of the excluded middle. We're not facing a stark choice between either: 1) Continuing our ruinously expensive military commitment; or 2) Completely abandoning Afghanistan. There are a lot of things we can do in Afghanistan, a lot of ways to support positive change, that don't involve spending hundreds of millions a day and keeping tens of thousands of U.S. troops there.

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Really a new and sustained victory strategy for Afghanistan would show that Washington is singularly positioned to convene effective coalitions and deliver solutions to intractable international problems in ways that shore up the stability of an international economic and political order that has provided greater degrees of human freedom and prosperity than any other.

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