Senator John Kerry seems to be emerging as President Obama’s go-to person for foreign policy advice on critical issues. This must be rather galling for Vice President Biden and especially Secretary of State Clinton. Biden at least gets to trot out ideas about major matters, such as his “Pakistan First” notion for dealing with the deterioration of our position in Afghanistan. Clinton apparently does not even have that consolation.
But Kerry’s approach to Afghanistan is a little more serious than Biden’s and thus will likely receive more consideration. Speaking before the Council on Foreign Relations, Kerry put his finger on the main problem with Biden’s “Pakistan First” concept — major gains by the Taliban in Afghanistan will “put Pakistan at risk.” However, Kerry argued against a troop surge in Afghanistan unless three conditions are met: better Afghan governance, a bigger civilian development effort, and a supply of reliable Afghan security forces to work with U.S. troops.
This sounds sensible. But those who advocate a surge counter that these conditions cannot all be satisfied when we are losing militarily, as now seems to be the case, and Obama’s commander on the ground seems to agree. As James Dobbins, who served as a special envoy to Afghanistan during the Bush administration put it, Kerry is basically saying, “we’re not going to send more troops until we start winning, which seems to be an inversion of the usual sequence.”
In the end, Kerry’s position looks like just another in a long line of excuses offered by Democrats for not fighting to win. First, we shouldn’t fight to win (indeed, shouldn’t fight at all) in Iraq because the important mission was defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan. Then, we shouldn’t fight to win in Afghanistan until the situation in Pakistan is dealt with. Or we should fight in Afghanistan, but only against al Qaeda (which has fled the country), not the Taliban.
Now, says Kerry, we shouldn’t fight to win in Afghanistan until the Afghan government and military get their acts together.
But if the Afghan government and military got their acts together, the Democrats then would no doubt argue that our presence is no longer needed. Come to think of it, this eventually became part of the rationale for phasing out of Iraq.
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