The real heart of our Afghan problem lies in our expectations of what this primitive and riven country is ever likely to become. The achievement of the past seven years lies mainly in what Afghanistan has not become: To wit, a safe haven for some of the worst people on earth.
That’s no small thing, though selling Americans on what amounts to a negative achievement will not be easy. (Just ask George Bush about all the credit he gets for no new 9/11s.) Nor will it be easy for Mr. Obama to sell his rank and file on an Afghan surge after he did such a terrific job as a candidate of trashing the Iraq surge. Congratulations, Mr. President: You’ve got a war to sell.
Which brings us back to the left. Much will never go right in Afghanistan, but that doesn’t mean things couldn’t be a lot worse. For instance, Joe Biden can continue to trash Hamid Karzai, as Jack Kennedy trashed Ngo Dinh Diem. Or we could pursue a talk-and-fight approach to the Taliban, as Lyndon Johnson did with North Vietnam. Or the antiwar movement of the present could give encouragement to our enemies in the Middle East that they can bleed America into withdrawal, as a previous generation of peace activists encouraged Ho Chi Minh.