Stability in Afghanistan and Other Oxymorons

There’s a lot of tooth-gnashing going on today about President Obama’s decision that we’ll have troops in Afghanistan for a few more years both by those who think we should have withdrawn from Afghanistan already and those who want to use substantially more force there than we already have. Are there any bets on which will come first? The end of President Obama’s second term or our withdrawing from Afghanistan?

The editors of the Washington Post are pleased with the president’s decision:

PRESIDENT OBAMA on Tuesday announced a much-needed adjustment in his plans for drawing down U.S. forces in Afghanistan, telling visiting President Ashraf Ghani that a scheduled halving of the 9,800 currently deployed troops by the end of this year would be set aside, and the force maintained into next year. This was a sensible response by Mr. Obama to a range of developments, including Mr. Ghani’s impressive efforts to improve relations with Washington. But the adjustment still falls short of what will be needed to give the new Afghan government a reasonable chance of success.

The president’s decision will allow for U.S. forces to remain at bases in eastern and southern Afghanistan that are critical for gathering intelligence and launching counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda. It will also enable air and other logistical support to Afghan troops as they battle what is expected to be a fierce Taliban offensive this spring and summer.

Perhaps most important, Mr. Obama’s decision, accompanied by a commitment to fund Afghan military and police forces at their present levels through 2017, sends a message to the Taliban, which still hopes to overwhelm the Afghan army as U.S. support declines. The more the United States remains committed to continuing military aid to Mr. Ghani’s government, the more likely it is that Taliban leaders will finally respond to his persistent efforts to engage them in peace talks.

As the late Sam Goldwyn is alleged to have said, if you want to send a message, call Western Union.

I wonder when President Obama’s supporters will be willing to stop thinking of the president’s policies as pragmatic? If the president’s decision to increase our forces in Afghanistan was a pragmatic one, it was also wrong. The situation in Afghanistan is little changed from what it was when he took office other than four times as many Americans having been killed there as when he took office. As I said at the time, that was a foregone conclusion when he made his decision. The number of casualties is mostly based on operational tempo. In my view the president’s decision to put more troops in Afghanistan was based on domestic politics, his decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan was based on domestic politics, and his plan to leave more troops in Afghanstan is also based on domestic politics.

One of the things about having put your views into writing over a period of eleven years is that there’s a record of what you think. I hold the seemingly contradictory views that we should never have invaded Afghanistan but having done so we should commit to retaining a small force, 10-20,000, for the foreseeable future. There are several reasons for that. First, such a force could prevent Al Qaeda from re-establishing itself there. Second, we owe a debt of honor to the Afghan people. Third, Afghanistan is incapable of defending itself without outside help and the idea that we’ll continue to provide such help in the absence of a U. S. troop commitment is a fiction.

Also, just about anybody who actually knows anything about Afghanistan has said much the same thing. I’ve documented that a-plenty over the years.

15 comments… add one
  • PD Shaw Link

    What if Afghanistan is the most stable place in the Middle East in two years?

  • ... Link

    “Most stable” is just a relative measure, PD, as I’m sure you’re aware. It’s probably already in the upper half of such countries now!

  • PD Shaw Link


  • PD Shaw Link

    . . . relatively speaking.

  • PD Shaw Link

    One think I’ve always appreciated about Dave was his situational evaluations, he could be against A, but for its proper implementation if that is the course taken.

    I have a sense from watching these exchanges in the past that most people don’t trust him, at least on the “against A” side. In the blogosphere to be truly “against A,” one must decry every resulting event as doomed and evidence of the superior path not taken.

    I describe this as Calvinism, a view in which events are not the result of free choices that all have their positives and negatives, risks and contingencies, but a world in which a sinful choice will always bite you in the a$$ — it is pre-ordained and it is the hubris of man (or Republicans at least) to think their efforts could ever change anything or that random events might intercede in their favor.

  • steve Link

    Guess I don’t see the merit in staying, even with a small force. The Afghans kicked out the Brits and the Russians when they didn’t want them. I don’t think they especially wants, but they do want the money. I suspect that if they really don’t want AQ there, they will kick them out also. We clearly aren’t going to fulfill the neocon dream of turning the place into Sweden, so why are we staying? If we stay for how long? What is to stop groups like the Taliban from just waiting until we leave. They seem very patient and persistent.


  • Andy Link

    Well, I will probably be on the hook for another Afghanistan deployment in another year or two. Can’t say I’m too excited. We’re hoping that a couple more years will allow Ghani to do something that’s lasting and positive, but that hope is foolish.

  • As Dave knows, I’ve agreed with his position on invading Afghanistan (and Iraq for that matter) for quite some time. Or as I phrased it in one of my pieces, one genius of a president decided to put an army and billions in equipment in a land locked country surrounded by hostile territory and an even bigger genius decided to double down to back up his ridiculous, chest thumping campaign rhetoric.

    Not only that, but the second genius handcuffed our troops with insane Rules of engagement guaranteed to get them killed or maimed. That’s a part of the reason casualties per capita are so high since Obama took over as C in C.

    I say this without denigrating one iota what amounts to military miracles our troops have performed there, things the press deliberately suppressed that Americans are just beginning to find out now.

    Stability? How insane a concept is that when our ‘ally’ Pakistan has a vested interest in keeping Afghanistan unstable…and over 75% of the supplies our troops depend on come via the port of Karachi and are shipped overland into Afghanistan via the Torkhum Pass?

    However, if we wanted stability of a sort, the way we could have achieved it in one of two ways: Complete and unbridled military victory, like Alexander, or the same way the Brits did. Buying it from the tribal chiefs. The Afghan Wars only occurred once the Brits cut off the ‘subsidies.’

    Since we’re not going to have a military victory (especially under this president) and at this point none of our potential friends trust us, with good reason, it’s time we left. Thanks to Obama, there are plenty of other failed states like Libya to assume the role of jihadi Disneyland.

    Of course, we could always decide to cut the head off the snake without wasting blood and treasure on side shows. Perhaps we will one day, who knows?

    My apologies for the long comment

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