Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Will vs. Kristol on Afghanistan

George Will calls for withdrawing ground forces from Afghanistan and using drones, cruise missiles, air strikes, and special forces units to focus from offshore on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Bill Kristol replies that this is a recipe for "retreat" and "defeat."

I'm not sure either one of them has it quite right, although Kristol, as usual, manages to sound obnoxious even when he's making arguments that don't have to sound that way. Will should have mentioned that the U.S. is already using drones in the Pakistan border regions, and while arguably this has had some results in eliminating elements of the Taliban and al-Qaeda leadership (e.g. Baitalluh Mehsud; Usama al-Kini), the strikes have also caused civilian casualties, weakening support for the U.S. among the population. On the other hand, I share Will's distress at the rising U.S. casualties -- and, I would add, casualties in the ISAF forces from the other countries in the coalition. There comes a point at which such sacrifices can no longer be justified.

I don't know whether we are at that point. Stephen Biddle offers a depressing assessment in a recent article in The American Interest. He writes that "the strategic case for waging war is stronger than that for disengaging, but not by much: The war is a close call on the merits." Both reinforcement and withdrawal can be legitimately criticized, he says, and while he favors the former "on balance," he sees "no easy way out of Afghanistan, no clear light at either end of the tunnel, for President Obama."


hank_F_M said...


Thanks for the interesting articles

Guerrillas and insurgents never win wars.
Sometimes Governments and their allies lose them.
It is the President’s decision if we will lose.

Will’s recommendation is a recommendation to lose slowly. I’ve never been a fan of Kristol’s comments on military affairs, but he got lucky this time. Biddle is probably a little on the pessimistic side but he has the right idea.

Winning in Afghanistan will take much more troops treasure than are currently committed. And over the long time a pretty large casualty list. The President needs to make a decision to commit over the long run with it will take or just pull the plug, not half way like Will recommends. And the decision should be make after wide consultation putting up the costs and benefits and getting input and more importantly support.

I am not really sure that type of commitment is in our interest, but if the decision is to prosecute the war we should do it.

But whatever, the President should not do an LBJ and commit enough force to be sure the loss does not happen on his watch. I think he might, for the same reason LBJ did; losing would hurt his ability to promote his domestic programs, which is where his heart is, and prosecuting the war involves costs and risks he is not prepared to deal with.

LFC said...

I think your last paragraph is an important caution.

I am still sorting out where I come down on this. I'm somewhat more sympathetic to Will's view than you are, though I admit it's not without problems.