Bill Kristol and Charles Krauthammer, among many others, have responded to George Will’s argument in favor of, in effect, a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. On what I thought was Will’s strongest point — the futility of remaining — Kristol and Krauthammer make basically the same argument.
Kristol says that if the Afghan National Army is expanded, and if there is surge of several brigades of American forces to bridge the gap between present and future Afghan capacity, then we will have roughly the number of forces necessary to carry out an effective counter-insurgency strategy.
In Afghanistan the idea is this: We have a bridge, a surge, which would [last] a year or two, during which you build up the Afghan army to perhaps a quarter of a million, which would be able, if it succeeds, to then, with little Western support, keep the capital, protect the capital, make deals with the warlords in the north, and contain the Pashtun insurgency in the south. That’s all that we can hope.
Given the stakes in Afghanistan, I have no objection to a “bridge-surging” for a year or two (a time period that probably corresponds to the limits of the public’s patience). But I have some questions that reflect my doubts that this approach would succeed.
Is there good reason to believe that the Afghan army will become an effective counter-insurgency force across large portions of Afghanistan in a year or two? The 250,000 thousand number may well be attainable, but how many of them would be of a quality that would unable us to “un-surge” without dire consequences? In other words, It may make sense to say that a one or two-year surge can bridge the numerical gap between present Afghan military capacity and the capacity the Afghans require. But wouldn’t it take a much, much longer stay to bridge the real gap between those two capacities?
And what about the nation-building side of things? Is Gen. McChrystal correct in saying (as it is reported) that defeating the insurgents requires a government that has the confidence of the people, along with substantial economic progress? If so, don’t we need to do more than just supply military capacity while the Afghan army grows?
Finally, what is the relationship between this surge and the surge that succeeded in Iraq? There, we focused on policing Baghdad and working with those forces in Anbar province that were fed up with al Qaeda. The proposed Afghan surge seems far less focused.
Krauthammer offers something that sounds like an application of the successful Iraq model to Afghanistan when he talks about making deals with the warlords in the north, and containing the Pashtun insurgency in the south. Maybe it’s as simple as that; I hope so.
To me, however, the proposed surge in Afghan sounds a bit like the pre-surge strategy in Iraq — the one that wasn’t working there: build up the Iraqi security forces so we can stand down when they stand up (or whatever the words were).
It will be interesting, to say the least, to see how Obama sorts through all of this. Will he be willing to give the “bridge-surge” strategy a shot? Perhaps for a year, but two might be a stretch, given that he will be seeking re-election in 2012.