No time for roller-coaster rides

Earlier this week, Gen. Petraeus told the Senate Armed Services Committee that “the conduct of a counter-insurgency operation is a roller-coaster experience.” In other words, it’s too early to conclude from the disappointing start of the surge in Afghanistan that the surge will fail.
I don’t doubt that Petraeus knows what he’s talking about. However, we should not take the early poor returns lightly. In Iraq, the early problems we faced when the insurgency began were indicative. So were the early successes of the 2007 surge.
Moreover, if we can believe the account of Jonathan Alter in his new book The Promise, Petraeus assured President Obama that the new approach to winning in Afghanistan would succeed in 18 months. That timetable doesn’t allow much space for a roller-coaster experience.
In the end, it may not matter whether our current difficulties are evidence of a deep flaw in our approach or merely represent the down slope of a roller-coaster ride. In the former case, we are probably going to lose because we have a losing strategy. In the latter case, we are probably going to lose because Obama won’t tolerate the ride.
Nor is it clear that Afghan President Karzai will tolerate Obama’s impatience. His former intelligence minister told the New York Times that Karzai has already written off the possibility of U.S. success and is positioning himself to make a deal with Pakistan and the Talilban.
The Washington Post today urged President Obama “to make clear whether the United States is prepared to stay long enough to ensure a stable and peaceful Afghanistan. Unfortunately, I think Obama has already made it reasonably clear that he is not prepared to allow the U.S. to do so.

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