Here's a radical proposition: Withdraw from Afghanistan. That's just what stalwart nationally syndicated columnist George Will called for on Tuesday, setting off a week of stormy debate that culminated in the secretary of defense and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff responding to his Washington Post op-ed, titled, "Time to Leave Afghanistan." With deliberations in Washington set to begin in earnest about a newly delivered strategy by the new commander on the ground, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Will has opened up the most fundamental question the country faces in foreign affairs today: Should the U.S. be in Afghanistan in the first place?
In a matter of days, a veritable storm of arguments gathered, some from the chattering class and some from the country's foremost institutions. But while the arguments that emerged contain flashes of both brilliance and bafflement, almost in their entirety they fail to reconcile the reality of the challenge: Nation-building lies at the core of any mission in a country as underdeveloped as Afghanistan, and whether done well or done badly, it will take not months or years, but decades. And to suggest otherwise is irresponsible.
It all began on Tuesday, when Will went the distance, saying, simply, it is time to get out. A longtime conservative, his argument was hugely at odds with much of the establishment on the right. His critique is solid: The idea of "clearing" and then "holding" against the Taliban, he says, is foolish, considering the number of troops the West is willing to commit. There simply are not enough boots on the ground. More, basing a strategy on the future of the Afghan "government" is dangerous, seeing as the institutions in the capital city of Kabul are considered hugely corrupt and exert little control in the rural countryside beyond it. Will offers an alternative, which is to pull back troops and then work from the sidelines, "using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes, and small, potent Special Forces units."