What if Obama’s Afghanistan Strategy Works?

To get an idea of how well President Barack Obama’s strategy for Pakistan-Afghanistan hit a political sweet spot, consider that people with as divergent an agenda as myself and Max Boot are both satisfied with it. What’s more, I’ve read and heard that after initial fears about the Biden-supported counterterrorism component winning out, the COIN crowd is pretty happy about the plan. But that was in the same day I read that the Obama strategy was simply a stepped-up COIN approach to a walked-back counterrorist objective.

I think the reason everyone is breathing easier now is that first of all, it was obvious that we needed to devote more resources immediately to the war, and Obama has done that. Second, I think we all expect that within a year, we’ll be pretty much where we are now. And we’re all confident that at that time, the strategic logic will bear out our argument. Boot probably figures this is the best a war supporter could get now, and that next time through, Obama will double down. Whereas I think this is the least Obama could get away with, and that next time through he’ll draw down.

Needless to say, when people who disagree about end goals agree aboutmeans, then either the plan is very, very good, or very, very bad. Inmost cases it’s the latter, because rarely does the infinite universeconspire to make everyone happy with its finite outcomes. Which meansthat one side of this argument is going to be mighty disillusioned this time next year.

Finally, amidst all the Talmudic discussions of COIN, CT, the Taliban and Pakistan, and all the educated guesses of whether or not the Obama strategy will work, Greg Scoblete over at Real Clear World is the first person (so far as I’ve seen) to ask the even more important question, namely, What if it does? His answer is worth reading in full, but I will clip this passage here:

By linking Pakistan’s support for the Taliban with its geopoliticalstand off with India, the administration is acknowledging thatterrorism springs from the toxic interplay between religious radicalismand political tension. But rather than enmesh ourselves in the politicsof India-Pakistan and the fundamentalism of the Taliban, we should befocusing on the politics of the U.S. and the Middle East, and thefundamentalism of al-Qaeda.

Conceiving of Islamic terrorism as a problem with roots in everyother nation’s behavior but our own is a recipe for future, likelyfruitless, forays into nation building. Conceiving of Islamic terrorismas a global insurgency with roots in the dysfunctional relationshipbetween the U.S. and the Middle East, however, would give us theconceptual tools to begin fighting back more effectively.

If the goal really is to remove al-Qaida as a threat, eliminating its safe havens in Pakistan is only part of the answer, and just a first step. What’s more, someone somewhere better be war gaming out the possibilities for what happens if we do eliminate not only the safe havens, but al-Qaida as an organization as well. Because in a best-case scenario, that’s where our next problems will arise.