Monday, November 16, 2009

"Off Ramps" for Afghanistan

With the "all COIN all the time" crowd calling for 40,000 more troops and years upon years in Afghanistan I'm relieved to know that President Obama is dissatisfied with the current options and is looking for an "off ramp" for Afghanistan. Whether Ambassador Eikenberry's leaked cables were the catalyst for that kind of thinking or not, I'm glad that the President is looking for a way out. The difference between us and the British or Soviets is that we are not seeking an empire, we do not wish to remain in Afghanistan indefinitely, therefore our end goal must be leaving, and the strategy has to include doing that as soon as possible while preserving our long-term security.
Steve Coll is always worth reading, so check out his "If we fail in Afghanistan" article. I'm not sure I agree with his second point/scenario especially, but it's an interesting read. Coll is far more pessimistic on the consequences of leaving Afghanistan than skeptics like Stephen Walt. Coll and Walt were on different panels at a RAND discussion on Afghanistan a few weeks ago (Paul Pillar was also excellent), but I would love to have seen them actually debate the issue.
I am not calling for an immediate withdrawal. I would support sending more troops, as long as it is for a purpose and we have a plan for what they will do, but I am very glad that the subject of how and when we can leave is an important part of the discussion.

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