Our Next Step in Afghanistan

4 May

Osama Bin Laden’s blood had barely dried on the dusty ground of his palatial Pakistani compound before we as a country considered our next step in Afghanistan, and whether we could now finally declare victory and go home. Philosophically, support (or lack there of) for our current manifestation of the Afghan conflict breaks not along normal partisan or ideological lines, but rather shades of realism: Pragmatics, Blind Wearers, and the simple War Weary.

Pragmatists, such as President Obama, balance the nukes in Pakistan and remnants of Al Qaeda with our growing death toll, and grimly press on, seeing few options. Such sentiment is expressed well by this unnamed administration official:

“I hope people are going to feel, on a bipartisan basis, that when you move the ball this far, it’s crazy to walk off the field,” one senior administration official said. Officials who favor retaining a large troop presence said that while this was a significant victory, the security gains in Afghanistan remained fragile.

Outlying wearers of blinders let either their misplaced faith in humanity or pacifism (on the Left) or dislike of President Obama (on the Right) cloud their thinking, and recommend withdrawal from the conflict for those biased reasons. Thus do Ralph Nader, Dennis Kucinich and George Will all find themselves on the same side of the argument.

The War Weary, where I suspect most of the country lies, doesn’t like to “lose” and doesn’t like 10 year wars that produce casualties at this rate, and are looking for a reason, a sign, a signal, to Bring The Boys Home. Osama Bin Laden’s death looks like just such a portent. I can sympathize. With an unclear mission and vague goals articulated by President Obama, little gain in 10 years, and a Afghan history that points toward hopelessness, one can reasonably ask what we gain by continuing.

When I want to find a new smart, contrarian and/or well considered opinion, I check TED (skip to 10 minutes in):


Those words are as relevant now as when spoken in 2005. We’ve been in Afghanistan for 10 years, 6 since this speech. These ideas are not new (jobs and roads, why didn’t we think of it before!), and in various forms, we have been attempting to implement them under two administrations. Do we have the stomach for a 20 year engagement, if we have seen so little progress after 10? How long do we beat our head against the wall? And what happens when we stop?

5 Responses to “Our Next Step in Afghanistan”

  1. STEEL May 4, 2011 at 12:42 pm #

    We do need to focus on the fact that this war now is not about Afghanistan but is actually about Pakistan with its nuclear weapons mixed with frightening instability fueled by poverty and ignorance. Not to sound partisan but, we would also be smart to remember that the war in Afghanistan was a half effort in the Bush years – complete wasted advantage which is now a acting as a lead weight dragging down any sane policy in this war.

  2. Brian Castner May 4, 2011 at 1:54 pm #

    If “this war now is not about Afghanistan but is actually about Pakistan with its nuclear weapons,” whom do you recommend we start killing, and where?

    That Bush made mistakes is certain, but they appear to be the one’s Obama is doubling down on – arming and training of defacto warlords, support of the Karzai government. And like many things with President Obama, rhetoric is not matching action. He gave a number of speeches on an Afghanistan surge, including deploying nation builders, but they are not arriving: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_aEVQAd1dqi0/TMhzxsg7bWI/AAAAAAAABQc/4yJHVUSy7Xo/s1600/SIGAR_civilian+sttas.png%22 I would argue our efforts are still at half, though perhaps it is better in the long run. If all our nation building is for naught anyway, why pour more resources down the infinite hole?

  3. STEEL May 4, 2011 at 5:27 pm #

    I am not claiming to have a solution. The solution is not necessarily about killing folks though. I am just saying our exit from Afghanistan is not so simple as many think.

    I can’t claim to be a military strategist and I certainly don’t have all the info that Obama has to sift through. Lord knows the decisions he has to make are near impossible. Complaining about Bush is water under the bridge but without the Iraq blunder I think we could have made a real difference in Afghanistan. Bush and his crew should be in jail with the damage they have done to this country.

  4. Mr. F.N. Magoo May 4, 2011 at 7:21 pm #

    “vague goals articulated by President Obama”. Glad to find you’ve relented and picked sides.

  5. Brian Castner May 4, 2011 at 9:53 pm #

    I’m on the side of Pragmatism. In the past, that made me a conservative and Republican. But seeing as how the current versions of those groups are becoming batshit crazy, its hard to keep picking their side. It drives me nuts when people just shill for their their party, or worse, a specific politician. I’d like to think I’m open minded enough to give Obama credit where its due, but that list is small. On Afghanistan, there isn’t much to like.

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