Sunday, August 30, 2009

Where the Debates on Afghanistan Stand

Marc Lynch has an excellent post on where things stand on Afghanistan:

The pro-escalation side probably has the better of the tactical argument, in terms of the best response once the U.S. decides upon the strategic necessity of combatting the Taliban "insurgency". But the anti-escalation side probably has the better of the strategic argument: U.S. vital interests in Afghanistan to justify the expense remain vague, the arguments made for the costs of "losing" the counter-insurgency war in Afghanistan are relatively far-fetched (please, no more "credibility of the West" or "flytrap" arguments), the critical "safe havens" argument suffers from the profound weakness of the availability of alternative safe havens all over the broader region, and the costs of waging such a war successfully aren't being taken sufficiently seriously. But a close argument tilts towards the status quo, and won't stop the enormous momentum already built up in the US government towards the escalation strategy. Sunk costs and credibility considerations probably weigh more heavily than they should. The main impact of the debate will at best be to force the administration to more sharply calibrate its goals and its commitments - which may matter in the future - rather than to actually derail the current strategy right now.
My posts the past couple of days (here, here) have been a struggle, as I want to argue that Afghanistan is important enough to justify a continued costly effort, but it is hard for the reasons that Lynch points out: other available safe havens, sunk costs on their own are a poor justification, etc. I do think the regional security argument (not quite a domino theory argument, but in the same neighborhood?) does tip the scales, as does the responsibility claim which I made yesterday.

Reasonable people can certainly disagree on what particularly countries and/or international organizations should do about Afghanistan, particularly after Karzai's performance--de-legitimating the election with quick claims of election fraud; his embracing of the vilest folks to get a winning coalition; and his continued position-taking against the international community (more on this in the next post). I do think that we need to recognize not just the costs of staying but also the costs of leaving. Departing is not without some significant consequences, so we need to consider the tradeoffs of all of the various options.

Again, don't fight a land war in Asia unless you have considered not only how to get in, but also how to get out.

No comments: