Ron Radosh

Time for a Commitment to Victory in Afghanistan

My wife and I just got back from Kansas City, where we returned to learn about Dick Cheney’s speech last night to the Center For Security Policy.  Cheney revealed that the Bush administration had given the incoming Obama team a carefully developed strategy for the war in Afghanistan, and that it was a false allegation that the new administration had to start from scratch in developing a policy. “They asked us not to announce our findings publicly,” Cheney said, “and we agreed, giving them the benefit of our work and the benefit of the doubt.”


Now, of course, Rahm Emanuel is seeking to blame the supposed need for a careful review on the failures of the previous administration, and to find some way to account for Obama’s indecisiveness on the issue of what to do in Afghanistan.  Cheney, as expected, argues that General McChrystal’s recommendations are solid and well thought out, and that Obama should implement them immediately. “Now,” he added, “they seem to be pulling back and blaming others for their failure to implement the strategy they embraced. It’s time for President Obama to do what it takes to win a war he has repeatedly and rightly called a war of necessity.”

The problem is that because Cheney is making that argument, liberals and Democrats will run to say that this is the position of the extreme right-wing, and hence should be abandoned. After all, Obama ran as the anti-Bush, and any policy put forth by the former vice-president is for the liberal-left going to be reason enough to reject it.

That is why the new issue of The New Republic that was waiting for me in the mail is so important. It contains in its pages two major articles on the U.S. and Afghanistan. The first is by Peter Bergen, a senior fellow at The New America Foundation, and author of a highly regarded book on Osama Bin Laden. Bergen argues that the argument we are hearing today from so many, that al-Qadea is the real enemy and is in Pakistan and that hence we can ignore and forget about the Taliban and Afghanistan, is completely false.


His point is that the evidence clearly shows that they are not distinct groups, and in fact have essentially merged into one new jihadist body. The heart of his argument is this:

These arguments point toward one conclusion: The effort to secure Afghanistan is not a matter of vital U.S. interest. But those who make this case could not be more mistaken. Afghanistan and the areas of Pakistan that border it have always been the epicenter of the war on jihadist terrorism–and, at least for the foreseeable future, they will continue to be. Though it may be tempting to think otherwise, we cannot defeat Al Qaeda without securing Afghanistan.

If returned to power in Afghanistan, Bergen shows, the Taliban would not become responsible and moderate, as “realists” like Stephen Walt and others claim. They will not become, he quips, “an ultra-rational clique of Henry Kissingers.” And if we fail to defend Afghanistan, al-Qaeda will gain new momentum and strength. To gain their ends, they want and need a state; and if we let them have control over Afghanistan, we will most assuredly up the ante for a major new attack on our homeland.

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.


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