Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Afghanistan: declare victory and leave?

According to an item apparently moving on the wires -- it got roughly 25 seconds on the PBS NewsHour's summary tonight -- Pres. Karzai has called for the U.S. and NATO to set a withdrawal date from Afghanistan. Otherwise, he will initiate negotiations (with the Taliban, presumably) himself.

Negotiations might be a good idea -- indeed, they are already occurring to some extent -- but I suspect the idea of setting a withdrawal date now is a non-starter. It certainly runs counter to the incoming U.S. administration's announced policy. Perhaps Karzai is trying to signal in a more forceful way his clear unhappiness with aspects of the war, especially the ongoing civilian casualties. Some readers with longish memories (or an interest in the history of U.S. foreign policy) may recall the late Sen. George Aiken's prescription for ending the Vietnam war: "Declare victory and get out." That was rather sage advice as far as Vietnam was concerned; whether it is equally wise advice with respect to the Afghanistan conflict is a much more open question.


Jake Liscow said...

I think that it is a bad idea to leave Afghanistan now, as it was to leave Iraq after the first Gulf War. There is work left to be done and now is the opportune time to carry out the military tasks necessary in Afghanistan, while we have the military infrastructural foundation in place in the region.

I guess Aghanistan's leadership wants us to leave, but they need to come to grips with the magnitude of the international war against insurgencies - it's focused in land within the state's geographical bounds. Declaring victory in wars like these has been inaccurate, to say the least, in the past. And to do so now would be fairly disastrous.

LFC said...

I agree with your last point, but I don't think a purely military solution is viable, partly b/c it can't be confined to Afghanistan alone. An effort at a negotiated settlement is required. I'll have a bit more to say on this later on.

hank_F_M said...

There is no way Afghanistan can be won as a pure military operation.
There is no way Afghanistan can be won by diplomacy and politics.

Somehow the two have to be put together in a complimentary program. Which has two problems, as can be inferred from your previous posts On McGeorge Bundy this is something the US political process does not do well, and it will still take much more military than the US and our NATO allies want to commit.

I think it would be best to call Mr. Karzai’s bluff, say we cannot reach a mutual agreement and withdraw. Explained as not a defeat but respecting the wishes of the country we were supporting.

Or explain it to the American people, “you thought Iraq was long, confusing, and expensive – you ain’t seen nothing yet.”

LFC said...

I agree, at least on a general level, about the need to integrate force and diplomacy (talk about the oldest realist maxim in the book!), and also that this is sometimes easier said than done. The solution, if there is one, will have to involve Pakistan as an integral part of an expanded diplomatic initiative. More on this later.