Tuesday, June 22, 2010

What Do Neoconservatives Really Think About Afghanistan?

When George Bush decided on the Iraq surge in late 2006, he never tired of saying that he was committed to doing whatever it takes, for as long as it takes, to secure an acceptable outcome. He believed that saying that was a necessary condition of success because otherwise our support within Iraq would evaporate in the expectation that we're on our way out the door. But that didn’t mean that Bush really believed what he was saying. He had to know as of the summer of 2006 that, unless nearly all the heavy lifting in Iraq was done before the end of his presidency, there’d be a new Democratic administration and congress with a mandate to cut our losses and accept defeat. So presumably Bush wouldn’t have pressed ahead with the Iraq surge unless he really thought that the heavy lifting would be done by January, 2009.  It looks like he may have been right.

Now neoconservatives are saying similar-sounding things about Afghanistan. Here, for example, are Thomas Donnelly and William Kristol (my emphasis):

The imposition of a troop-withdrawal deadline, in particular, has poisoned our Afghanistan strategy. McChrystal has, understandably, behaved like a man under pressure to produce quick results to get good marks in the administration’s December Afghanistan strategy review. Even the timetable for the review is premature and therefore transparently artificial: the last “surge” brigade won’t be deployed until November.

“The shortage of time is also compounded by the shortage of forces. McChrystal’s cardinal achievement to date has been the re-wiring of the dysfunctional ISAF structure, but it’s also required him to deploy forces in places such as Kunduz, north of Kabul but still a Pashtun area where the Taliban have been more active, because the German forces there are insufficient.

“If the United States fails in Afghanistan, it won’t be because Gen. McChrystal or his staff were indiscreet or insubordinate (which, strictly speaking, they were not). Indeed, if the war can’t be quickly won in Afghanistan, it won’t be quickly lost there, either. And in fact it can be won, though it will take some time. The war can, however, be lost rapidly in Washington.
I’m willing to grant that it makes sense, for all the usual reasons, to believe that we can’t succeed in Afghanistan on a publicized timetable. And I’d even grant, begrudgingly, that it might make sense for us to say we’ll do whatever it takes to succeed for as long as it takes if we really think that we can get the heavy lifting done before the patience of the American people and our NATO allies runs out. But do Donnelly and Kristol really think that the window for heavy lifting extends much beyond July 2011 or that Obama can pretend that it does credibly enough to fake out the Afghan people and the Taliban?   If you ask me, that's  pretty improbable on its face.

I’m sure Donnelly and Kristol sincerely wish that we had the collective fortitude to prosecute the war for an indefinite period. But, in light of the facts before me, I can't help but wonder whether they really believe that this administration, or a Republican administration taking office in January 2013, can sustain domestic and international support for the war effort long enough to achieve anything that counts as success in their eyes. I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt by assuming that they're succumbing to wishful thinking, because, otherwise, writing editorials like the one I’ve quoted above would be appallingly irresponsible.

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