A strange new respect for our Afghan policy

Fareed Zakaria contends that a troop surge is not necessary in Afghanistan because we’re succeeding there. Our central objective, he notes, is to deny al Qaeda the means to reconstitute, to train, and to plan major terrorist attacks. In this, says Zakaria, we have been successful for the past eight years.
Zakaria’s position is a plausible one and we have flirted with it on Power Line. But was Zakaria this sanguine about Afghanistan when Barack Obama and other opportunistic leftists were attacking President Bush for allowing the situation there to become “dire” while the U.S. focused on Iraq? Or does Zakaria’s assessment depend on which party occupies the White House?
In either case, Zakaria’s analysis, though plausible, is not terribly persuasive. He assumes the situation in Afghanistan is sufficiently static that the status quo will be maintained if the U.S. simply maintains present troops level. But war tends not to work that way. The U.S. may elect to stand still in Afghanistan but it’s unlikely that the other players will. For example, tribes and their leaders surely are trying to determine whether the U.S. is committed to defeating the Taliban and protecting local populations. If they conclude we are not, they are likely to gravitate towards the Taliban, to the detriment of the U.S.
Al Qaeda is also watching from across the border in Pakistan. If Zakaria is correct that the Pakistanis are stepping up their efforts against al Qaeda, then we can expect that elements of that terrorist outfit will gravitate back to Afghanistan if the U.S. is unwilling to surge and the situation contines to deteriorate. Worse, a weakened U.S. position in Afghanistan might well produce gains for al Qaeda in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. For, as the Washington Post concluded after interviewing Pakistan’s foreign minister, the Pakistanis are unlikely to persevere against al Qaeda if they see the U.S. falter.
Finally, Zakaria fails to discuss the obvious difficulties President Obama would face in sustaining support for our current commitment in Afghanistan if we continue on our current, desultory path and certainly if the situtaion worsens. Americans are understandably loath to see our soldiers die in a war we are not fighting to win. Zakaria is not wrong to tout the absence of an al Qaeda attack as a triumph of U.S. military policy. But this argument failed to sustain support for Bush’s approach to fighting wars and, over time, it won’t fare any better for Obama.

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