Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Eleanor Was Right

My daughter has a speech assignment--to address a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt:
"Do what you feel in your heart to be right- for you'll be criticized anyway."
Ok, to be true to ER, the rest of the quote is:  "You'll be damned if you do, and damned if you don't."

I was reminded of this when reading the latest story about Afghanistan: that folks are upset that the US is planning a post-2014 relationship with the country.  The neighbors fear permanent bases. Just a little while ago, folks were concerned that the US was start pulling out in 2011 (this year).  NATO then committed to a transition in 2014 (still too soon for some, too late for others), with the next question of what happens after that.  This agreement helps to change the atmosphere:
“The important thing now is that the sense of abandonment that was in the air last year is gone now,” he (a Karzai adviser) said.
 So, the Russians are upset that there might be long term bases.  Well, just as there will not be significant long-term bases in Iraq (where US interests are far more important), the US is unlikely to hang around just for the privilege of eating dust.  The general momentum in US defense planning is towards the reduction of deployments abroad.  Yes, there are still troops in Germany and Korea many decades later, but anyone who wants to keep making analogies between Iraq and Afghanistan on one hand and Germany and Korea on the other left the US government with the rest of the neo-cons.  

The US never really enjoyed the Great Game, as it is called.  The US only got involved to punish the Soviets and then again when Bin Laden used Afghanistan as a base of operations.  Does the US really want to be in between Uzbekistan and Pakistan?  Not so much.  Dealing with the threats emanating out of Pakistan are complex enough that bases in Afghanistan are useful, but they are not the difference between success and failure.

In Afghanistan, as in Iraq, domestic politics will limit how much American presence will be acceptable.  There will be a need after 2014 for American advisers (and those funding the Afghan government) to be located in Afghanistan.  But US budget politics and increased frustration with Afghanistan will almost certainly mean a declining presence over the long term. 

Going back to Eleanor: we are damned if we do and damned if we do not.  The US got heaps of retrospective blame for what happened to Afghanistan in the 1990s for leaving it to the Afghans.  The US is getting heaps of concern now for thinking about keeping an eye on things after 2014. 

We need to care about what others think (unlike what Eleanor and my daughter suggest) since any strategic situation means that the outcomes depend not only on what we do but what the others do.  But we need to figure out which "least bad" policy is the best one, and not be deterred by the anxieties of others if that is what it takes.

No comments: