U.S. ambassador: Withdrawing too soon could create pre-9/11 conditions in Afghanistan

The official word is that the timeline for withdrawal is unchanged, with Obama himself insisting that “we’ve got to do it in a responsible way, reducing our footprint progressively.” Hard to believe that late 2014 will remain the bullseye, though, when even prominent Republicans are saying stuff like this:

“I think it’s very likely that we have lost — tragically lost the lives and suffered injuries to a considerable number of young Americans on a mission that we’re going to discover is not doable,” Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, who has struck perhaps the most negative tone on the war of any of Mr. Obama’s potential rivals, said on “Fox News Sunday.”

In words quite close to what some Democrats have told the White House, Mr. Gingrich added: “Look at the things that are going on around the region and then ask yourself, ‘Is this, in fact, a harder, deeper problem that is not going to be susceptible to military force, at least not military forces in the scale we are prepared to do?’”

According to ABC’s new poll, 60 percent say the war hasn’t been worth fighting and 54 percent say we should pull out whether or not the Afghan army’s ready to take over — which amounts to a de facto handover to the Taliban. Most Republicans differ from the majority on the last question but when asked whether the war was worth fighting even they split equally. Fred Kaplan makes the case for the “everybody out now” position: If successful counterinsurgency ultimately depends on trust, what happens to your chances of success once the trust is gone?

Trust has been a centerpiece of the basic counterinsurgency strategy, which calls for NATO troops to focus on protecting the Afghan people, living among them, gaining intelligence from them on the insurgency, and helping to provide them basic services, in order to strengthen the ties between the people and their government, and thus to undermine their ties to the Taliban.

Trust has also been essential to the transition strategy, in which NATO troops train and gradually hand over authority to the Afghan army and police.

The counterinsurgency strategy falls apart if the Afghan people have to worry that an American soldier in their midst might come murder their family in the night. The transition strategy falls apart if NATO troops have to worry that an Afghan cop or soldier they’re training might, at any moment, shoot them in the back.

Here’s Ryan Crocker answering Megyn Kelly’s point that Americans are tired of war by arguing that if we get out too soon, we might be back to a pre-9/11 dynamic before we know it. Problem is, even if we don’t get out too soon, we might be back to a pre-9/11 dynamic before we know it. Does anyone seriously believe the Afghan army will dig in and fight for Karzai’s kleptocratic government after we leave and the Taliban onslaught begins? Even if they’re willing, how long would they last? The long-term goal of the mission as I’ve always understood it was to eliminate Al Qaeda and then build a bare-bones western-oriented state capable of making sure that AQ couldn’t return. Realistically, though, the only way to do that was to eliminate the Taliban too. And since the Taliban is based in — and supported by — Pakistan, the only way to do that was to eliminate the Pakistani “deep state” that uses jihadist proxies like the Taliban and Lashkar e-Taiba to strategic advantage against its enemies, i.e. India. The irony of Bush’s rhetoric after 9/11 about holding state sponsors of terror responsible for the acts of the terrorists they support is that we didn’t quite do that even in the case of 9/11 itself. Ultimately, it’s not the Taliban that makes outfits like AQ possible; it’s our “allies” in ISI. If Pakistan was a different country, Afghanistan would be too. But it isn’t. So it’s not.

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