The second article is by Stephen Biddle, the Roger Hertog Senior Fellow for Defense Policy at The Council on Foreign Relations. Biddle asks “Is There a Middle Way?” and addresses himself to those, like Vice-President Joe Biden, who argue that we can scale down our own troop commitment and deal with the Taliban by using drones and other technology related forms of warfare. Biddle sums up McChrystal’s proposed path this way:
The integrated counterinsurgency, or COIN, strategy that McChrystal wants to pursue has many components: protecting Afghan civilians, rapidly expanding the Afghan army and police, reforming government, providing economic development assistance, weaning Taliban fighters and leaders away from Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden, reconciling them into the new government, and targeting those who refuse. This makes it a demanding strategy that McChrystal reportedly believes will require providing at least an additional 10,000 to 40,000 U.S. troops and more than doubling existing Afghan forces to a total of 400,000 indigenous soldiers and police.
What many policy experts and Democrats in particular are arguing for is the beneficial nature of a middle-way, what Biddle calls “a more limited presence intended to secure U.S. interests without the cost and risk of escalation.” It is a mechanism, he argues, for guaranteeing American defeat while assuaging the conscience of those who say we can win on the cheap, without making any real sacrifices.
Biddle goes through all the various middle-way proposals, showing that virtually all of them will not work, and will only endanger our troops and prepare the ground for a Taliban and al-Qaeda victory. A defeat, he writes, will give the jihadists a state-scale haven. “If the failure of counterinsurgency in Afghanistan enabled insurgents to succeed in Pakistan, the effectiveness of U.S. counterterrorism efforts would plummet even as the need for them skyrocketed.”
As for the Taliban, he warns that while it is reasonable to try and negotiate with some Taliban fighters, this cannot lead to positive results and produce terms the US can accept without a show of strength by our troops, and a clear commitment to not abandon Afghanistan. “Why,” Biddle asks, “should Taliban leaders compromise for half a loaf when the whole bakery is available?” The choice, he concludes his analysis, is “a hard value judgment in choosing between better odds at a higher price or worse odds at a lower cost.” The second option will be cheaper, but more than likely lead to failure.
The writers of both these articles are well established foreign policy experts, men of the mainstream liberal policy making establishment. They are not known as neo-cons, nor followers of Dick Cheney and the Bush administration. Yet, when push comes to shove, their conclusions mirror those made by Cheney.
Hence my main point: all those who wish to protect our national security and defend our nation against the threat of another attack by the forces of radical Islam should carefully read and consider their arguments. They cannot be discredited by finger-pointing and crude sarcastic columns- like those penned recently by Joe Klein of Time- that attempt to deal with the merits of the case for continued war by politicized attacks on the past administration.
It is time for Americans to come together and support a policy that makes sense, and rejects the wishful thinking of the middle-course advocates. If President Obama still stands by his early assertion that Afghanistan is a “war of necessity,” and not of “choice,” than he too should make the case for further troop commitment and action as carefully and solidly as do Bergen and Biddle. At the present time, it is my deepest fear that he is moving in the opposite direction.