Should Obama change his strategy in Afghanistan?

Two facts are widely acknowledged by all sides in this debate. First, Petraeus has made substantial progress in the fight against the insurgents. He and his team have killed a lot of mid- to upper-level Taliban fighters and commanders, disrupted their command and control network, and loosened—in some cases, knocked away—the Taliban’s grip on swaths of territory, especially in the southern, heavily Pashtun provinces, where the militants once held unchallenged sway. (In reaction, some Taliban have taken the fight back to a few cities, including Kandahar City, where they’re assassinating local officials; whether this marks a last gasp or a reshaping of the battlefield is as yet unclear.)

But second, this tactical progress on the strictly military level has not translated into much strategic progress on the much more vital political level. All wars are fought for political objectives, and this is doubly so for insurgency wars, in which the whole point is to create a “zone of security” so that the government can provide basic services and win the support of the population, undermining the base of support for the insurgents in the process. President Karzai has not taken advantage of the zone of security that U.S. and NATO (and, increasingly, Afghan) forces have fought so hard to create, at so much cost in lives and other resources…

Some officials also fear that the West is pouring so much money into Afghanistan (many times more than the country’s total gross national product) that Karzai and his cronies—who are getting rich from their slices of development contracts and economic aid—would actually prefer that the war never end.

To say the least, this is a morbid situation.

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