In Afghanistan, It's the Strategy Stupid
Posted by Michael Cohen
In a piece looking at the outlines of the debate inside Obama's war cabinet about Afghanistan policy Rajiv Chandrasakaran previews the arguments of war opponents - it is too expensive:
Of all the statistics that President Obama’s national security team will consider when it debates the size of forthcoming troop reductions in Afghanistan, the most influential number probably will not be how many insurgents have been killed or the amount of territory wrested from the Taliban, according to aides to those who will participate.
It will be the cost of the war.
“Money is the new 800-pound gorilla,” said another senior administration official involved in Afghanistan policy, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity. “It shifts the debate from ‘Is the strategy working?’ to ‘Can we afford this?’ And when you view it that way, the scope of the mission that we have now is far, far less defensible."
So instead of arguing the practically incontrovertible facts that the current strategy in Afghanistan isn't working - war opponents want to use the bogeyman of growing deficits to end the war. Why not just argue the facts?
Why not point out that since December 2009 the Karzai government has shown no inclination to improve governance or crack down on endemic corruption?
How about pointing out that the President's own party is increasingly in open revolt against his policy in Afghanistan - with only 8 voting against an amendment that would speed up troop withdrawals from Afghanistan?
They could make the argument that current military gains are simply unsustainable because a) Pakistan continues to provide a safe haven for Afghan Taliban fighters and b) the Afghan Army and Police are nowhere close to taking over security responsibilities from the US and NATO? To the latter point why not remind David Petraeus of his confident prediction to President Obama that security could start being turned over to the Afghans in 18 months:
Inside the Oval Office, Obama asked Petraeus, “David, tell me now. I want you to be honest with me. You can do this in 18 months?”
“Sir, I’m confident we can train and hand over to the ANA [Afghan National Army] in that time frame,” Petraeus replied.
“Good. No problem,” the president said. “If you can’t do the things you say you can in 18 months, then no one is going to suggest we stay, right?”
“Yes, sir, in agreement,” Petraeus said.
“Yes, sir,” Mullen said.
If all else fails civilian advisors could even play the trump card that nation building in the Hindu Kush is simply not in the national security interest of the United States, particularly now that bin Laden is dead and al Qaeda is clearly on the run in Pakistan.
The point here is that the cost of the war is the least effective argument against the war, particularly since the President has said that the fight in Afghanistan is in the vital interest of the United States. Arguing about the money raises the idea that if we could afford to stay in Afghanistan for the long haul we should.
Well clearly we shouldn't - and one would hope that President's civilian advisors would have the courage to make precisely that argument.