Seriously, I’m very conflicted about the way forward, and I think that comes through pretty clearly in this Bloggingheads segment I did with Michael Cohen. (The entire episode can be seen here.)
We taped this early last week, before I’d read Tony Corn’s Small Wars Journal article (.pdf) that nudged my thinking past the tipping point. It’s easy to reduce my argument regarding the importance of political signaling to being “a face-saver for withdrawal with no guarantee of any long-term gain,” as Andrew Sullivan did.
But that ignores two important factors in my reasoning. First, the conditioned commitment signaled by a time-bound troop increase seems to me the best way to both reassure and urgently motivate the spectrum of political actors — in Afghanistan, Europe, and South and Central Asia — upon which Afghanistan and the broader region depends for stability.
Second, I clearly stated that although I remain skeptical of the chances for long-term success, my thinking was influenced by people who know both the country and region, and the political and military situation on the ground, more intimately than I do. So while, I’m not optimistic, I’m willing to consider the possibility that I’m wrong. A time-bound surge, accompanied by serious diplomatic arm-twisting, seems to me to be the best way to test that proposition.
I don’t think the U.S. has any business fighting a long, drawn-out counterinsurgency in Afghanistan. I also don’t think that either withdrawal from or failure in Afghanistan would be catastrophic. But leaving behind even a modicum of stability would be better. If we can achieve that by temporarily resourcing this war adequately for the first time in eight years, while making it clear that the rest depends on an urgent multilateral diplomatic solution, it’s worth a shot.