Won’t matter a whit to the conservative base, which is The One’s only reliable constituency on Afghanistan, but insofar as it gives the media an irresistible peg on which to hang the withdrawal meme — “even George Will says…” — it’s big news.
“[F]orces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent special forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters,” Will writes in the column, scheduled for publication later this week…
The columnist’s startling recommendation surfaced on the same day that Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, sent an assessment up his chain of command recommending what he called “a revised implementation strategy.” In a statement, McChrystal also called for “commitment and resolve, and increased unity of effort.”
In the column, Will warns that any nation-building strategy could be impossible to execute given the Taliban’s ability to seemingly disappear into the rugged mountain terrain and the lack of economic development in the war-plagued nation.
I can’t find the column anywhere but The Corner is all over it, starting with a post by Fred Kagan describing Will’s various factual errors (and his sneering at the British contribution, which involved six dead in one day earlier this summer, as “risible”) and concluding with this excellent quick take by Lowry about Will’s grand strategic mistake. This sounds like the old Baker/Hamilton plan for Iraq by another name, i.e. redeploy to get the troops safely out of harm’s way and then use precision strikes to take out terrorists while the country falls to pieces. I never understood how that was supposed to work with Iraq — how would you get the intel for the strikes? what if some areas held by jihadists are too dangerous to penetrate? what about the morality of leaving civilians at the mercy of armed fascists? — but I really don’t understand it in the Afghan context. The whole point of pressuring Pakistan into getting aggressive with the Taliban on their side of the border is to leave Al Qaeda squeezed in the middle; if you pull U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, you give them a place to run to — a mirror image of what happened in 2001 when Osama and company escaped to Waziristan. Anthony Cordesman, who’s always been a straight shooter in his assessments of Iraq, warns today in WaPo that unless we put some more boots on the ground to clear and hold territory, the country’s finished and we’ll face “an enduring regional mess and sanctuary for extremism” going forward. I’m curious to read Will’s theory for why that won’t happen if we don’t take his advice.
Either way, The One seems serious about not pulling out — yet. Why, his mouthpiece is even using verboten, cowboy, Bush-era terminology!