Giving Up on Afghanistan (It Begins)

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Well, apparently the Obama administration is going to release its new strategy for "victory" in Afghanistan -- though I doubt they'll use that word -- next week, but the AP put out a story on it today that says the new plan will rely on Pakistan to fight the havens and dumb down U.S. expectations:

The Obama administration is close to announcing a redrawn strategy for a war in Afghanistan that the president says the United States is not winning, focusing on enlisting Pakistan in the fight against extremism and trimming U.S. expectations for military victory, administration, defense and intelligence officials said.

Well, this is the beginning of the end folks. "Trimming expectations" and "enlisting Pakistan in the fight" are code words for "exit strategy." We've been hearing the rumblings of this for weeks from Obama's allies on the left, but make no mistake, they have no stomach for this war -- or any other Bush-initiated conflict, for that matter -- and will look for excuses to reduce our commitment to a country we owe much.

We're seeing the demonization of Karzai by this administration along the same lines as the under cutting of Nori al Maliki in Iraq during the dark days of 2006. And the defeatist language has become the narrative for all coverage of the conflict:

The White House expects to announce new objectives for the flagging war as soon as next week that place an onus on next-door Pakistan to contain extremism, defense and administration officials said Thursday.

The New York Times had two opposing Op/Eds this morning, one from Leslie Gelb and another from Fred and Kim Kagan and Max Boot, who've been in Afghanistan for the last week on a battlefield tour.

Gelb is giving Obama an out:

Mr. Obama needs to consider another path. Our strategy in Afghanistan should emphasize what we do best (containing and deterring, and forging coalitions) and downgrade what we do worst (nation-building in open-ended wars). It should cut our growing costs and secure our interests by employing our power more creatively and practically. It must also permit us and this is critical to focus more American resources and influence on the far more dire situation in Pakistan.

Why is it that war opponents care only about "stability" and care nothing for the Afghans themselves?

The Taliban are no exception. While most of them want to drive America out, they have no inherent interest in exporting terrorism. As nasty as the Taliban are, Americas vital interests do not require their exclusion from power in Afghanistan, so long as they dont support international terrorists.

I can't believe I'm hearing this. Oh, the Taliban aren't so bad as long as they're not giving haven to al Qaeda..? Tell that to the Afghans who lived in terror for more than a decade under Taliban's Hobbesian rule and who will again be subject to their Wahabbist dogma if they're given a substantial stake in Afghan government.

And I love this:

President Obama has to ring Afghanistan with a coalition of neighbors to show the Taliban they have no place to seek succor, even after an American departure. The group would include China, India, Russia, NATO allies, and yes, Iran. They all share a considerable interest in stemming the spread of Afghan drugs and Islamic extremism.

This is like Biden's straw man "rapid reaction force" to be stationed in Kuwait if (when) all goes to Hell in a hand basket after a putative U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. Yeah, right. We'll ask Iran to jump in and keep Taliban jack-booters from shooting burkha-shedding women in the soccer stadium.

Kagan, on the other hand, who's actually over there and talks to military leaders, Soldiers/Marines and Afghans themselves, wonders what all the defeatism is all about:

It is odd that the Afghans felt it necessary to reassure American visitors that all was far from lost. It reflected the fact that even in a country where electricity and running water are scarce, word of the defeatist hysteria now gripping some in the American political elite has spread.

And the Kagan2/Boot also says the idea that we can plink bad guys from Predators after a withdrawal is bunk:

There are many who claim that a large-scale commitment isnt necessary. Some say we have no interest in making Afghanistan a functioning state -- all that matters is preventing Al Qaeda from re-establishing safe havens, and we can do that by killing terrorist leaders with precision air strikes or covert raids.

The key question for those who advocate pulling back is this: Where will we get the intelligence to direct the raids? If we have few troops on the ground, we will have to rely on intercepted communications. But seven years into the fight, the terrorists have learned a thing or two about keeping their communications secret. The only way to get the intelligence we need is from the residents, and they wont provide it unless our troops stay in their villages to provide protection from Taliban retribution.

I've been saying recently that the best way to counter extremism in the tribal areas in Pakistan is a robust Afghan army and police -- including intelligence forces. They speak the language, the share cultural and ethnic ties but they do not share sympathies. Leaving them would weaken us. As the Kagan2/Boot piece states, it's time to gird our loins and fight to the finish -- there are no half measures.

If we abandon them, we will become blind to one of the most dangerous threats to our security, and also hand our most determined enemies an enormous propaganda victory their biggest since 9/11.

Make no mistake: there is hard, costly fighting ahead in Afghanistan. But the fight is worth pursuing, and the odds of success are much better than they were in Iraq when we launched the forlorn hope known as the surge.

And make no mistake, the Obama administration (with the help of a Pentagon that wants to get back in the business of combined arms training for Fulda Gap battles) is looking for an expedient way out, and they'll take the Euro line of "there's nothing more we can do here" and blame Karzai and Pakistan as we pull the plug.

[BREAK - BREAK: We have an exciting live podcast interview today with a close friend and colleague Morgan Till. He's a producer for the PBS News Hour program and is on assignment in Afghanistan. We'll talk to him live at 1200 EDT today about his reporting in the Korengal Valley, patrols outside Bagram, time with PRTs and hanging with Leathernecks near Kandahar. Please join us.]

-- Christian

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