The next war in Afghanistan

Repub­li­cans ig­nor­ing the real strate­gic is­sue

The Washington Times Daily - - Opinion -

Amer­i­can troops will soon leave Afghanistan. What could be­come a key pol­icy ques­tion for the 2012 elec­tion is, what will hap­pen af­ter they de­part?

se­ries of new polls show that the public wants to wash its hands of Afghanistan. The trend was well-es­tab­lished even be­fore re­cent an­tiAmer­i­can ri­ots and the mas­sacre of 16 Afghan civil­ians, al­legedly at the hands of Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales. When Mr. Obama took of­fice, a ma­jor­ity still be­lieved that the war was worth fight­ing, but his lack­lus­ter per­for­mance in prose­cut­ing the “war of ne­ces­sity” has con­vinced them oth­er­wise. An ABC News/washington Post poll from the first week in March shows just 35 per­cent con­sider the war worth fight­ing, and 60 per­cent do not. A March Pew Re­search Cen­ter poll found sim­i­lar re­sults, with 35 per­cent say­ing the coali­tion should re­main in force un­til the coun­try is sta­bi­lized and 57 per­cent want­ing forces pulled out now. A USA To­day/gallup sur­vey con­cluded 24 per­cent wanted forces out by the 2014 dead­line, and 50 per­cent wanted to speed up that timetable.

This is not deep buyer’s re­morse. Ma­jori­ties still ap­prove of Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s decision to send troops in 2001, even as they con­clude that con­tin­u­ing the troop pres­ence is not worth it. Amer­i­cans do not want to fight bat­tles they can’t win or are not be­ing al­lowed to win. So-called long wars have never been part of the Amer­i­can way of war. The style we pre­fer is to go in with over­whelm­ing force, fix the prob­lem and leave. The in­tel­lec­tual case for the long war re­quires the Amer­i­can public to ac­cept a level of am­bi­gu­ity and sus­tained sac­ri­fice that it is not will­ing to do.

Mr. Obama’s chal­lenge in the elec­tion year is to make the planned with­drawal from Afghanistan not look like a de­feat. His Re­pub­li­can chal­lenger, mean­while, has to have some­thing more pos­i­tive and pop­u­lar to say than “Stay the course.”

Afghans are pre­par­ing for civil war, sim­i­lar to the one that broke out af­ter the Soviet Union with­drew in 1989. The United States should pledge to sup­port the elected Afghan cen­tral gov­ern­ment and sym­pa­thetic pro­vin­cial lead­ers with air power, in­tel­li­gence sup­port and other crit­i­cal ca­pa­bil­i­ties to pre­vent a Tal­iban takeover. The strat­egy would look much like the trans­for­ma­tional, small-foot­print ap­proach Mr. Bush em­ployed to desta­bi­lize and ul­ti­mately over­throw the Tal­iban regime in the fall of 2001. It may not pre­vent ex­trem­ists from mak­ing lo­cal gains in the coun­try­side — which they seem to be do­ing any­way — but it would stop them from tak­ing con­trol of the en­tire coun­try and again mak­ing it into a head­quar­ters for global ter­ror­ism.

The facts on the ground in Afghanistan are rapidly mov­ing be­yond the pa­ram­e­ters of the Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal de­bate. Politi­cians need to em­brace the re­al­ity of the com­ing with­drawal and ex­plore vi­able poli­cies for the strate­gic en­vi­ron­ment to come. It is an is­sue Mr. Obama has been happy to let alone and one that most Repub­li­cans have been un­will­ing to dis­cuss.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.