In this post, I expressed concerns about our effort in Afghanistan, asking 1) can we “win” in the sense of leaving behind a reasonably modern and successful state, and 2) how much strategic significance does Afghanistan have? I wondered whether our best alternative is a less ambitious strategy that would rely on air power and a limited ground force to prevent the terrorists from running open training camps, etc.
I also quoted Pete Hegseth of Vets For Freedom who urged stepping up the Afghanistan effort. Today Pete sent this email in response to my post:
Just saw (yeah, I’m a bit behind) your post on Afghanistan where you quoted my email.
Between you and me, I wanted to mention that I share similar questions/concerns about the mission in Afghanistan. I’ve been careful not to use the word “victory” there, because that end-state is going to look a great deal different, and be much more difficult, than what we have achieved in Iraq. We choose to use the words “important mission” and “success.”
So, to quote you, I also ask the question – “is it really true that ‘winning’ in Afghanistan is as important, strategically, as winning in Iraq? Or in Iran?” No, it’s not. Iraq was far more strategically significant. However, an Afghanistan/Pakistan that we cede to radical Islamists will come back to bite us in the ass. We can’t allow that, and that makes it strategically significant. I also agree with Nate Fick’s assessment that the public relations setback would be very harmful (Iraq would have been even more harmful).
And if we do talk about winning, it needs to surround denying terrorists haven and training Afghan security forces who can control the ground. Building (not even re-building) is something that will take decades/centuries, and may never take hold. We could do that in Iraq (literate, modernized, educated, urban) but Afghanistan is different. We need to control the ground (and stay) with sufficient forces (COIN), kill bad guys, train our replacements (Afghan army/police) and do the small-scale projects necessary to convince the population to side with us/Afghan government, and not the Taliban/AQ.
Like you, the difficulties of the mission don’t lead me to believe we shouldn’t engage in Afghanistan. The enemy there is real and dangerous. But we need to either commit sufficiently (even more troops) or turn it into a counterterrorism mission. It remains to be seen what the Obama administration will do.
I’d rather do the former, but I fear Obama & Co. only have the stomach for the latter.