The Afghan Surge Begins

As a vocal skeptic of plans to escalate the war in Afghanistan, I should be dismayed by President Barack Obama’s approval of 17K additional troops. But for various reasons, I think it’s a smart move. His initial delay in making the announcement led me to believe that he might be having second thoughts about doubling down.

But after the delay, the announcement of a very muscular increase demonstrates the kind of resolve that won’t necessarily win the war, but will allow us to eventually withdraw at a time of our choosing, rather than under duress. That’s not an insignificant gesture, since the security situation in Afghanistan has unraveled to something close to a tipping point in the past four months, which would have put any imminent drawdown in a very negative light.

It also sends a timely signal to Pakistan that we’re not leaving anytime soon, which ought to be good for a more determined military effort from Islamabad in the FATA and in Swat. For that matter, the fact that the announcement comes so soon after the announced peace deal in Swat is probably no coincidence.

I still have my doubts about the ultimate chances for achieving our objectives in Afghanistan. And I’ve got a couple of analyses of the Soviet withdrawal, one by a French strategist and one by an American, on the reading list for tomorrow. It’s interesting, as a preview, to remember that the Soviets weren’t driven out of Afghanistan. They left in an orderly fashion, with a functioning, if doomed, state behind them.

I think we’ll be lucky to accomplish one out of those two, and my hunch is that that’s what Obama’s playing for right now.