Our friend Eli Lake gets the scoop on John McCain’s upcoming policy speech on Afghanistan at the New York Sun, although it shouldn’t surprise anyone who has followed McCain’s positions on the war. McCain will not only adopt a “surge” strategy of counterinsurgency warfare like that which succeeded in Iraq, he will appoint a special “tsar” to oversee the war effort in that theater. But the real meat of Lake’s article comes later, when he interviews Charles Hill, a foreign-policy expert who advised Rudy Giuliani and who should get more attention from McCain:
Mr. Hill, who was executive assistant to Secretary of State [George] Shultz and is currently a professor of grand strategy at Yale, said the success of American arms in Iraq makes possible more deployments to Afghanistan. “The Iraq war is over. Wars don’t come to an end the way they used to. It ended as best it can end about last December. The front has shifted to the Afghan-Pakistan border. We’ve chased them into that corner. That is a very different situation and difficult to handle because of the border and because the terrorists have a sanctuary there. We can’t get into that sanctuary, but Pakistan does not govern it. It is a black hole in the map of world order,” he said.
Mr. Hill went on to say that the exact tactics that were successful in Iraq would not necessarily apply to Afghanistan. “The surge in Iraq was really a version of clear, hold, and build. When you take territory, you hold it to keep the population secure, in some sense the people would do the rest. They would be entrepreneurial,” he said. “We can’t hold territory in the tribal areas of Pakistan, another way to make the surge workable on the ground has to be found, and that has to be in some form with the Pakistani military.”
Hill’s analysis goes against most of what we hear from the punditry — which is quite unfortunate, because he has this exactly correct. Osama bin Laden attempted to expand al-Qaeda into Iraq, either before or after the invasion — take your pick. This expansion intended on building the pan-Islam Caliphate, the first such attempt since the US kicked the Taliban out of Kabul. Had we retreated from Iraq, it would have succeeded, but instead we redoubled our efforts and defeated bin Laden’s dreams of empire.
That forced AQ to fall back into its power base in the frontier FATA provinces of Pakistan and attempt to win back Afghanistan. As Hill notes, AQ hasn’t bothered with Iraq in months, and the remaining AQI forces there have been left twisting in the wind. The war’s focus has returned to Afghanistan, where they are having more success — and where the same strategies may not be as effective. Afghanistan is not Iraq; it doesn’t have Iraq’s infrastructure, nor its natural resources in oil. Getting tribal support there will be exponentially more difficult since the Taliban have built-in tribal support from Pashtuns.
Still, McCain’s focus on counterinsurgency makes more sense than attempting to win this through traditional combat strategies alone. It will take a lot more troops, more than the two combat brigades Barack Obama proposes, although that is at least a step in the right direction. Obama’s support for escalation — there is no other word — also makes it easier for McCain to propose strategies built on strength.
Look for a more in-depth presentation from McCain than the one delivered thus far by Obama. The strategies that produced victory in Iraq can be adapted to Afghanistan, and the momentum can be transferred there as well.