Today I find myself in the somewhat embarrassing position of agreeing with Bartle Breese Bull’s op-ed in The New York Times. Although both Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain favor increasing our troop strength in Afghanistan, Mr. Bull demurs:
In any case, American counterterrorism interests in Afghanistan appear to argue for something far more restrained than our current commitment there, maybe 20,000 Western troops maximum. In the long run, it needs to be seen as the remote, poor and ungovernable country it is, albeit one with a history of ties to Al Qaeda and located next door to Osama bin Laden’s current base of operations, Pakistan. Still, a very light American presence operating through embassies and aid organizations should be able to collect the intelligence needed to allow special forces to eliminate terrorist threats as they appear.
He continues by making the cost argument that I’ve been making for some time here.
As long as the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan exists only for us, victory in any sense worthy of the name will be elusive in Afghanistan. That doesn’t mean that a complete removal of our forces from Afghanistan would be a good idea and I’d oppose such a plan but it doesn’t warrant substantially increasing their number, either. Stalemate is the most we can achieve in Afghanistan under the circumstances and I think that’s good enough.
Bing West in an interview at SWJ Blog responds to a question about a surge-like strategy for Afghanistan:
Let’s take a deep breath and assess conditions, goals and then means. Let’s select the proper forces for the proper missions, not armor for the mountains. The marines have volunteered to take much of the mission, and that is the proper direction. But before we assign more forces, let’s untangle the C3 mess, decide what we will and won’t tolerate from other NATO countries, decide our red lines for dealing with the Afghan government (semi-sic), decide our role and determination re drugs and decide how we build an Afghan army.
Afghanistan is harder and longer than Iraq. Nation-building in Afghanistan will take decades. Let’s not overpromise.
I don’t get the impression that either presidential campaign is thinking of a decades-long commitment to Afghanistan. Do you?