Wanted: an Explanation of Our Afghanistan Policy
I’ve been stewing about this post for some time. Try as I might I can’t come up with a comprehensible explanation of our Afghanistan policy as a policy. George Will’s most recent column is as good a place to start as any in thinking about this:
The ticking clock does not disturb the preternatural serenity that Gen. David H. Petraeus maintains regarding Afghanistan. Officially, the U.S. Central Command is located here; actually, it is wherever he is, which is never in one place for very long. He is away about 300 days a year, flying to and around his vast area of responsibility, which extends from Egypt to where his towering reputation is hostage to a timetable — Afghanistan.
He earned his own chapter in American military history by advocating and presiding over the surge that broke the back of the Iraq insurgency. This was an instance of a military intellectual given full opportunity for the unity of theory and practice.
Today, however, only about half of the surge of 30,000 troops for Afghanistan, announced by the president in his speech at West Point five months ago, have arrived. The rest will be there by the end of August. Eleven months after that, the withdrawal the president promised — in the sentence following the one that announced the increase — is supposed to begin.
President Obama has repeated this commitment several times since then. It is hardly to be doubted that this is, in fact, the policy of the United States. How can one explain Gen. Petraeus’s sang-froid over it? It may be that the general believes that the president is bluffing, kidding, or that he can be dissuaded by conditions on the ground.
Perhaps my understanding of our policy is unkind. As I understand it we are making war in Afghanistan (and the adjoining parts of Pakistan) because it is in our vital national interest. There is no other reason to make war. And it will cease to be a vital national interest in 2011, at which time we will leave.
Hence my confusion. I can understand continuing to make war in Afghanistan because it is believed to be in our vital national interests. And I can understand withdrawing from Afghanistan because making war there is no longer in our vital national interests. I cannot understand continuing to make war at great expense and loss of life and then withdrawing without accomplishing whatever objectives we may have there.
I can understand the position if it is viewed solely through the prism of domestic politics. President Obama campaigned on a policy of victory in Afghanistan. Were he to have withdrawn our forces from Afghanistan on assuming the presidency, he would undoubtedly have been subject to substantial criticism. However, he will be subjected to the same criticism if the U. S. is subject to a successful terrorist attack emanating from that part of the world. The recent abortive Times Square car-bombing highlights the likelihood of such an attack.
So I’m all at sea. Can someone please explain why we should continue to wage war in Afghanistan with a date certain for withdrawal in 2011?