Can I confess something about Afghanistan? I’m completely ambivalent about it, and about the president’s proposal to withdraw 30,000 troops. Yes, he seems to be making tonight’s speech in order to meet an entirely political deadline. That’s not unprecedented: Lincoln knew he needed a victory going into the 1864 election or he would lose, and thanks to Sherman, he got that victory. This is different, but one cannot separate politics and warfare, which is famously politics by other means. In the current case, the politics are trending against further involvement in Afghanistan.
The politics of Afghanistan are this: It’s a mess that’s roughly 3,000 years behind the West developmentally. To call it medieval would exaggerate its progress toward civilization. It’s evident that nearly 10 years of American troops trying to fix the place hasn’t really worked. It’s just as obvious that if we withdraw too soon, al Qaeda and the Taliban stand a pretty good chance of retaking the place and using it to plan and stage future attacks on us.
Afghanistan wasn’t President Bush’s fault and it isn’t President Obama’s fault. It just is what it is. Is the president’s withdrawal too much too soon, or too little too late? I’m not sure I know either way. I do know this: Afghanistan is not Iraq in the making. It’s a different beast, and what worked in Iraq may not necessarily work in Afghanistan. But we can’t just dive out of it and expect that there will be no negative repercussions. Most of the repercussions of both staying and withdrawing are likely to be negative.
It just is what it is.