"I believe that the US at the moment does not have the political will, nor the public understanding and commitment to do what is necessary in Afghanistan."
Those are the words of Muqtedar Khan, director of the University of Delaware's Islamic studies program, testifying Monday morning before the House Armed Services subcommittee on oversight and investigations.
He cited poll numbers that support for the war stands at about 40 percent. "With the current spike in casualties the growing political crisis that started with the malpractices in the presidential elections, I suspect public support will decline further. It will become difficult for both the White House and Congress to do what is necessary," Khan said.
The subcommittee's ranking Republican did not go that far but made clear the GOP's continuing frustration with the slow or measured pace of the Obama administration’s strategy review.
“Even though the basics of Afghanistan have not changed, we still do not have an approved national strategy for the conduct of the war in Afghanistan, despite our deployment of 68,000 US troops; our leading role in the international coalition; and new, experienced military and civilian leadership who have proposed a coherent campaign plan. We cannot continue on this meandering course with 68,000 Americans deployed in harm’s way. We cannot continue to search for a politically expedient compromise or an elusive magic bullet," Rep. Robert Wittman said in his opening statement.
Then Wittman struck an astonishingly honest pose: “I don’t pretend to know the right answer. I do know that indecision is the wrong answer. In international affairs, unwavering resolve is at least as important as the details of the plan. The election is over. President Karzai has five more years. Let’s figure out a plan to make it work and stick with it.”
As part of creating that plan, Paul Eaton, a retired Army major general, said the Obama administration "has to answer the question 'why' before it should answer the 'how.' The primary rationale I can see to continue in Afghanistan is 60 or so nuclear weapons in Pakistan, the link to regional stability, and the extremists groups operating there," Eaton said.
One of the hearing witnesses, Georgetown University professor Christine Fair, said that Afghan President Hamid Karzai's tainted election and his government's persistent incompetence mean that "victory in Afghanistan is unlikely if 'winning' means establishing a competent, reasonably transparent government capable of providing even limited services and increasingly able to pay for itself." She argued, as have David Kilcullen and others, that the center of gravity in the region is Pakistan. It is Pakistan's actions that, "in many ways determine the events and outcomes in Afghanistan and the rest of South Asia."
Khan told the subcommittee that the U.S. faces a fundamental problem in managing its relations with Pakistan, namely our increasingly close ties with Pakistan's forever enemy, India. Combine this with America's famous cancellation of its sale of F-16s when Pakistan decided to go ahead and build nuclear weapons, which lives on in the minds of Pakistanis as a sign of American perfidy and fickleness, and you have a relationship fraught with conflicting interests that is incredibly difficult to manage.