Monday, October 26, 2009

So Now What?

Re-reading what I’ve written the past three days helps clarify my thinking. From a geopolitical point of view the issues we face in Afghanistan and Pakistan are intertwined. Operationally, however, they need to be looked at separately. We have more freedom to make independent decisions in Afghanistan than we do in Pakistan, so that’s where I’ll start.

Fighting the Afghan Taliban and allied bad guys with conventional military means has failed and will continue to fail. We can’t win that war. Adopting a counter-insurgency strategy is a difficult but viable alternative to just giving up. But even if we (the U.S. and NATO) had the requisite resources and troops to win a counter-insurgency war, which we don’t and won’t, without strong Afghan involvement and commitment the war is unwinnable.

It’s their country. In that simple truth is the key to answering our “So Now What?” question. They’re going to have another election in a couple of weeks. No matter who wins it will take some time to determine if he is capable of running a reasonably efficient minimally corrupt government. The odds are not good, but that’s the hand we’re going to be dealt.

The right words will be spoken, so we’ll be able to reaffirm our partnership with them. But we need to make it clear to the Afghans and the American people that our support is contingent on the Government of Afghanistan delivering on their promise to enhance the welfare and security of their people. Otherwise, whatever we do will be insufficient.

It’s OK with me to increase the number of American troops on the ground – IF it is for a defined period of time and IF our main focus is training the Afghan army and police to take over the job of providing security. At the same time the government must provide the people with a better social services alternative than the Taliban is offering.

Critics will say that if we put a time limit on our support all the bad guys need do is wait us out. That’s true if the Afghans can’t deliver on their part of the bargain. But you know what? If they can’t deliver nothing we do will make any difference anyway.

There you go. On to the next problem.


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