Afghanistan myths

Our friend Tom Cotton, who served in Afghanistan in 2008 and 2009, was in Washington earlier this month with Vets for Freedom. He visited folks in Congress and the White House seeking support for Gen. McChrystal’s request for 40,000 to 60,000 more troops for Afghanistan. Tom found that the thinking of most officials he met was plagued by a number of myths. So he wrote a piece in The Weekly Standard to expose the biggest of these misconceptions.

1. A counterterrorism campaign is an effective alternative to counterinsurgency. Not so because, among other reasons, a counterterrorism strategy cannot work without actionable intelligence, and such intelligence cannot be obtained without troops on the ground.
2. The Afghan people don’t want us there. That’s not what they told Tom. They told Tom they want better security, and if it takes more American troops to accomplish this, that’s okay.
3. America cannot win a war in Afghanistan, the “graveyard of empires.” This view is based mainly on the Soviet Union’s experience during the 1980s. But “America has a counterterrorism strategy, whereas the Soviet Union had a genocide strategy.” The Soviets were hated; the Americans are generally respected.
4. America needs a new political partner before committing more troops. But the political situation won’t improve unless the government has more success providing security, and that won’t occur without more troops. It was in part because of the surge in Iraq that the political situation improved.
5. We should not put troops in harm’s way without thorough debate. But our troops in Afghanistan are already in harm’s way and urgently need reinforcements. Moreover, the situation is deteriorating and may become irreparable unless we seize the initiative next year. Given the time it takes to prepare for a deployment, and given the weather in Afghanistan, this means moving soon.
6. The military will break if we send more troops to Afghanistan. Not so. We are well below our 2007 troop deployment total for Iraq and Afghanistan, and 60,000 troops are expected to leave Iraq by next August. Meanwhile, the Army has grown since 2007 and is still growing.

It’s distressing to contemplate that mythical thinking is influencing the decisionmaking on Afghanistan. But maybe these myths are just excuses for not taking an unpopular, somewhat risky action.

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