As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Critical Mass On Afghanistan Skepticism

Get Afghanistan Right week has come to an end, with dozens of bloggers coming together to question the fundamental premise of whether escalation is the only option. I think its success can be measured by a new sense of skepticism in the traditional media, with this decent piece in the Washington Post as an example.

The planned U.S. military and counterinsurgency drive in Afghanistan is meeting public and official resistance that could delay and possibly undermine a costly, belated effort that American officials here acknowledge has a limited window of time to succeed.

The officials say they are optimistic that the planned addition of up to 30,000 troops, combined with a new strategy to support local governance and development aimed at weaning villagers away from Taliban influence, will show significant results within the year. They say improved cooperation from the army in neighboring Pakistan and better performance by the Afghan national army are bolstering this optimism.

Yet they also acknowledge that they face an array of obstacles, including: widespread public hostility to international forces over bombing raids and civilian abuses; the growing influence of Taliban insurgents in areas where central authority and services are scarce; and controversy over plans to establish village defense groups [...]

One conundrum, U.S. military officials say, is that the expanded forces will have to come in with heavy firepower and aggressive military tactics -- likely to create more civilian casualties and public animosity -- in order to secure rural districts so they can bring in services, aid and governance aimed at winning over the local populace.

It's a very good piece with a variety of perspectives. It follows the devastating piece revealing that Obama's team is sending troops to the region to "buy time," without a strategy in place. That's important information for the public to have.

And not only is the traditional media turning in this direction, but we're seeing a lot of smart takes from the foreign policy community. Ilan Goldenberg considers what is happening in Afghanistan and the FATA area around Pakistan to be an actual threat to American interests, but thinks that any troop increases have to have narrow goals that neutralizes that threat, and the possibility for that to drift into nation-building and propping up corrupt leaders will do nothing on that score. Robert Dreyfuss notes that nobody has any idea how to deploy those new surge troops in a way to make strategic gains in the region, and that there is a real risk that the insurgency is a home-grown reaction to occupation and will only grow BIGGER and more violent with increased troop strength. He also raises this point:

If the goal is to eliminate or neutralize Al Qaeda, then we've already won the war. If the goal is to eradicate the Taliban, remake Afghan society, and modernize its culture, then America is looking at a Thirty Years' War. There are some, including some human rights and women rights activists, who believe that reorganizing the social basis of Afghan society is an achievable goal. It is not. There are other, darker forces who believe that a long-term US presence in the heart of central Asia is an important geo-strategic goal for the United States, vis-a-vis Russia and China, in the struggle for regional influence and access to oil and natural gas.

And there's this informed take at which is slightly more in the pro-escalation direction. I have no problem with having the argument about it. I'm just glad that's finally starting to happen, and hopefully it will bubble up to elites.

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