It Won't Work
In theory what Obama has decided to do in Afghanistan and Pakistan is fine:
Provide more security
Work at the village level to win hearts and minds
Require good governance from Karzai and his people
Train the Afghan military and police
Support Pakistani military and development undertakings
Make it clear that our commitment is not open-ended but only until they can do the job themselves
The only problem with the theory is that while the elements are right, it won’t work. In the declared time frame – or any time frame for that matter – we will only be able to improve the situation marginally.
Do I have a better idea? Yes – but only if I begin with the assumption it is OK to wind down our commitment and leave Afghanistan to the Afghans. Will that guarantee the Taliban will take over the country again? Maybe. Maybe not. We and others can continue to support anti-Taliban forces, but not on the ground. If that doesn’t work and a strong central government can’t sustain itself there is a greater likelihood the country will again fall under the control of regional warlords and militias than there is the Taliban will win by default.
While all this is going on let’s not forget the main point here. We didn’t get into this to create a new kind of Afghanistan. Our goal from the beginning has been to thwart and eliminate Al Qaeda. Even if we’re totally successful in Afghanistan, accomplishing everything Obama has laid out, we won’t fundamentally have dealt with Al Qaeda. At best we’ll have eliminated one safe haven.
What about other havens? Will they be gone from Pakistan? Hardly likely. And from Somalia and Yemen? Don’t count on it. And from places that are not safe havens but provide opportunities for the discontented to gather? Like in Europe. And like here in the good old USofA. And from all the other places around the world that aren’t on our Al Qaeda radar screen today? Nope, sorry about that.
So is it hopeless? It is until a new context comes into existence on this planet – a context in which people find it is more in their interest to get along with each other than to kill each other. Has that context ever existed? Not that I know of. Not so long as hominids have been walking upright on two legs. Or even before.
That’s my rosy outlook for today.