Ryan Crocker's Newsweek essay seems like a good place to start for today's Afghanistan roundup. Using a recapitulation of the past eight years of U.S. Middle East/South Asia policy, in the context of the past 25 years of U.S. Middle East policy, Crocker comes up with not much more than the need for strategic patience in the region. Even while cautioning against expectations that what worked in Iraq will work in Afghanistan, and also while entirely ignoring some of the major errors of the past eight years that complicate the task ahead, Crocker essentially argues that we need to stay in Afghanistan in order to prove our reliability to friends, and our resolve to enemies.
Patience is admittedly not my strong suit, and I entertain the possibility that strategic patience is something I have not taken into consideration in Afghanistan. If there was a realistic possibility of deploying another 100,000 U.S. troops to support a robustly resourced reconstruction effort, I might be more convinced by the argument. I was against the Surge in Iraq, for instance, because I was late in picking up on the significance of the Anbar Awakening and skeptical of its longterm, political feasability, but also based in part on my belief that the troop levels would be inadequate to accomplish the desired results. As far as Afghanistan is concerned, it's fine to argue for the theoretical possibility of "victory" (even if defining it remains problematic), and even to argue for the kinds of troop increases that might achieve it. But the former is only as realistic as the latter, which for now means that the chances for either are little to none.
As for the merits, those in agreement with Crocker would do well to read through Andrew Bacevich's list of five questions the president needs to answer if he is to convince the American public of the urgency of the Afghanistan mission. As I've maintained previously, engagement can take other forms than military intervention, which means that strategic patience can also take other forms than a continued military presence. And Bacevich's questions raise compelling reasons to be skeptical about both.