During the last several weeks, Americans have found themselves back in the middle of a fierce debate over our continuing military effort in Afghanistan. What was Bush's forgotten war had, until recently, seemed quite safely transformed in public opinion into Obama's "war of necessity." Now, because of Gen. Stanley McChrystal's request for significantly more troops, coming on the heels of his public declaration that the Taliban are essentially "winning," the ruling Democrats have suddenly been thrust back into "quagmire" mode. Predictably, we are once again awash in feverish Boomer analogies to Vietnam, despite the pronounced absence in Afghanistan of any great-power antagonism. Indeed, America enjoys the exact opposite there.
Nonetheless, defections from the "good war" are occurring across the ideological spectrum. On the right, Washington Post columnist George Will has declared it's "time to get out of Afghanistan," while on the left, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi warns that congressional support for more troops is fast dwindling. Most tellingly, that avatar of the American middle, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, now confesses that he fears our "babysitting" job in Afghanistan has morphed into a full-fledged "adoption." In sum, our nation's elite are finally grasping just how far into the future a counterinsurgency/nation-building effort in rugged, backward Afghanistan may extend -- i.e., way beyond the 2010 midterm elections.
But what's especially odd about this debate is its stunningly self-centered tone: What are America's national interests? How long can America last? How much will America be forced to spend in blood and treasure? What will happen to America's standing if we withdraw? The whole conversation feels like a neurotic superpower talking to its therapist.