What’s the Objective?

by Dave Schuler on August 23, 2014

A propos of “do or not do”, the editors of the Washington Post are critical of the president’s plans with respect to Afghanistan:

“People have said, ‘Doesn’t this show that you should never take the troops out of Afghanistan?’ ” a White House official said this week, according to the New York Times. Mr. Obama’s response, according to this official: “He said, ‘No, it actually points to the imperative of having political accommodation. There’s a limit to what we can achieve absent a political process.’ ”

That’s true, of course. But what is the best way to promote political accommodation? Since Mr. Obama announced that he would pull all troops out of Afghanistan by the end of his second term, it’s not surprising that Afghan factions have begun looking for ways to hedge their bets and ensure their survival if order begins to break down. Two presidential candidates have each laid claim to the office, and Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s effort to broker a compromise is in danger. As The Post’s Pamela Constable reported Wednesday, “fears are growing that Afghanistan’s fragile transition process could collapse into violence.”

In the interests of clear thinking, I believe this would be a very good time for the president to re-articulate the reasons he believed that we should put more troops into Afghanistan in 2008 as well as his assessment of whether the goals he wanted to achieve have been accomplished there. Isn’t that how you determine what your policy should be? Figure out what you want to do and the means necessary for accomplishing that?

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

... August 23, 2014 at 10:21 am

Some groups cannot truly be accommodated. At best you will only be giving them time until they make their next move towards their own goal of absolute power. I don’t see IS, for example, wanting to partner with any coalition government for peace in Iraq and Syria.

Dave Schuler August 23, 2014 at 11:46 am

Some groups cannot truly be accommodated.

This administration has had a rather mechanical view of compromise, one in which you always meet exactly in the center rather than any of the other alternatives. I don’t think they’ve come to terms with people with truly extreme views, i.e. not extreme in the sense they’ve been trying to characterize the Republicans as extreme. I mean extreme in the sense of “they want to murder you”.

Where’s the half-way point there? They agree they’ll only half-kill you?

TastyBits August 23, 2014 at 12:09 pm

From the article:

if order begins to break down …

I am rather certain that the Afghan factions would use when. When the US is gone, Afghanistan will revert to what it was. There is nothing to hold Afghanistan together, and there never was. What am I missing?

... August 23, 2014 at 1:21 pm

They will only half-kill you. For example by making you watch re-runs of crappy shows like Empty Nest dubbed into Turkish.

jan August 23, 2014 at 2:10 pm

“Isn’t that how you determine what your policy should be? Figure out what you want to do and the means necessary for accomplishing that?”

However, this seems to be a president who doesn’t want be involved with wars, only end them. He also has indicated he wants to decrease our footprint globally, becoming part of an ensemble of nations rather than a super power, as one pundit recently described his foreign policy.

So, IMO, Obama has determined what his policy is according to his own instincts and ideology, which is basically to beg off, not take definitive action until we’re backed into a corner, while waiting for others to do the heavy lifting.

steve August 23, 2014 at 4:07 pm

He should define it, but at the time, I thought it an attempt at an Iraq style surge. An attempt to control the insurgents enough to build up a legitimate Afghan force and let a legitimate government form. With those in place we could leave with a stable Afghanistan left behind. What we have found is that the Afghans cannot form a legitimate government. I think we will find it pretty clear that their military/police forces will fall apart once we leave.

I think the real questions then are, were our goals wrong? Were they legit and we didn’t know how to accomplish them? Were they the right goals but cannot be accomplished with our soldiers occupying the place? Last of all, is there anything to be gained by staying longer? In retrospect, I think they were reasonable goals, but probably not ever achievable, especially since we essentially ignored the place for so long. Maybe if we had not gone off on our excellent adventure in Iraq we could have had a better outcome, but I doubt it.

We aren’t the first people to try this. The Europeans tried. Many times and in many places. WHat makes us think we can do what others have not in this area of the world?

Steve

Dave Schuler August 23, 2014 at 4:12 pm

He should define it, but at the time, I thought it an attempt at an Iraq style surge.

That’s a tactic not a strategic objective.

Andy August 24, 2014 at 5:28 am

My view hasn’t changed since 2008. The goal was to create political space to allow a face-saving withdraw. In that respect it was an effort to replicate the US domestic political effect of the Iraqi “surge” by using the same operational strategy. I said at the time it wouldn’t work and it didn’t. Unlike Iraq we never got a house of cards built in Afghanistan to let us get out before the inevitable collapse. We probably never will. Maybe after the collapse of Iraq people will finally realize that Afghanistan will never be a coherent, unified state, but I’m sure the usual suspects will continue to insist there is a shiny there if only we keep digging.

steve August 24, 2014 at 7:31 am

Dave- “With those in place we could leave with a stable Afghanistan left behind.”

Steve

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