Thursday, September 3, 2009

Post Op-Eds on Afghanistan

As the debate over Afghanistan heats up inside the Beltway and around the country the Washington Post has had four significant op-eds on Afghanistan this week, two terrible, one merely repetitive, and one very good.
Let's start with the good. Everyone should read former Senator Chuck Hagel's piece from today, in which he argues that,
Our greatest threats today come from the regions left behind after World War II. Addressing these threats will require a foreign policy underpinned by engagement -- in other words, active diplomacy but not appeasement. We need a clearly defined strategy that accounts for the interconnectedness and the shared interests of all nations. Every great threat to the United States -- whether economic, terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, health pandemics, environmental degradation, energy, or water and food shortages -- also threatens our global partners and rivals. Accordingly, we cannot view U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan through a lens that sees only "winning" or "losing." Iraq and Afghanistan are not America's to win or lose. Win what? We can help them buy time or develop, but we cannot control their fates.
Meanwhile David Ignatius' column yesterday was virtually identical to any number of stories from February, March, and April on the President deciding between counterinsurgency and counter terrorism options, the only difference being the substitution of McChrystal for McKiernan. That's not Ignatius' fault, it is simply a good indicator that we are still treading water in Afghanistan.
George Will's column arguing for a withdrawal from Afghanistan, on the other hand, was as bad as Hagel's was good. Will should stick to decrying the decline of our entire society because we wear jeans. Will has already been savaged by left and right alike (my favorite comment was from Joshua Foust, "George Will waits for a Democrat to get in the White House before calling Afghanistan unwinnable. Classy."), so I'll just say that Will appears to be arguing for Bill Clinton's foreign policy: lob a few cruise missiles in based on inadequate intelligence. Did Will support that policy at the time? How well did it work?
On Monday Anthony Cordesman, a smart guy and a member of McChrystal's review team, argued that while we can't win in Afghanistan in the next three months, we can lose in that time frame, if enough resources are not devoted to the cause. That makes sense; we do almost certainly need additional resources. But then he bizarrely goes on to argue that we shouldn't worry about strategy, simply about tactics. That's the opinion of the "Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy?" A strategy is exactly what we need, and what we have been lacking. If we don't know what we are trying to achieve--based, as General Zinni said, on a strategic vision for the country--we will just continue treading water and making the same mistakes in Afghanistan.
I'm glad we're finally having a debate about Afghanistan. I wish it was a more educated one in which people argued honestly and about the same set of issues, primarily our strategic goals overall and in Afghanistan. And I hope President Obama and his team are listening and preparing to make actual decisions, not "middle grounds," before it is too late.

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