Chasing Second-Order Outcomes in Afghanistan

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.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.

More World Politics Review