In 2002 the President pulled troops away from the hunt for Osama bin Laden, which at the time still had some chance of success, in order to support preparations for Iraq. At the time it seemed to illustrate perfectly howfor this administration, in many ways 9/11 changed nothing. Al Qaeda remained an afterthought and the president’s circle remained focused on their longtime bugbear, Iraq.
The reasons for shortchanging the Afghan war were never entirely obvious. Afghanistan has more land and an 18% larger population than Iraq. Afghan-based groups are directly responsible for those attacks that the President waves, his personal bloody shirt, when he wants to justify everything from security spending to tax cuts to completely unrelated military action. By most accounts we have a decent chance of leaving the Afghan war a success. Yet the American presence there is practically an afterthought. Now, via Kevin Drum, the commitment to Afghanistan will move down one more peg:
According to Army Brig. Gen. Anthony J. Tata and other senior U.S. commanders here, that will happen just as the Taliban is expected to unleash a major campaign to cut the vital road between Kabul and Kandahar. The official said the Taliban intend to seize Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city and the place where the group was organized in the 1990s.
[…] “It is bleak,” said Col. Chris Haas, commander of the Joint Special Operations Task Force in Afghanistan.
“The gains we have made over the past few years are mostly gone,” said a bearded Special Operations officer, fresh in from advising Afghan army units in battle with 600 to 700 well-equipped Taliban fighters.
Conway said U.S. commanders understand that the Afghan war is an “economy of force” operation, a military term for a mission that is given minimal resources because it is a secondary priority, in this case behind Iraq.
Nevertheless, Conway said, he favored dispatching a Marine battalion [to Afghanistan], a decision that must be approved by the new defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, and by the president.
“It has to be made pretty soon,” [Gen. James T. Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps] said. “We can’t jerk the troops around and say, ‘Hey, oh, by the way, you’re going to Afghanistan in February.'”
In my view it would be helpful for the Democrats to clarify their position on Iraq a bit further. To wit, out of two ongoing wars America has the resources to win one. The catch is that we don’t get to choose which. To throw useless resources into the war that we have already lost, and in so doing lose both, is madness.
Some folks still think that the Iraq war will end well. I’m sure that there are good arguments to be made for that, but so far I simply haven’t heard them. The same indigenous forces on whom we increasingly depend are themselves part and parcel of the sectarian war. The idea of ‘rooting out’ the same people alongside whom we’re fighting is schizophrenic at best.
We can stay as long as we like, or as long as our military can sustain it, but staying is not the same thing as winning. Winning is what would have happened if someone like Shinseki had gone in with competent planning and the troop levelsthat Paul Wolfowitz insisted he was an idiot to ask for (plus other caveats which together push the idea into alternative-universe territory). Like most I think that Lt. Gen. Petraeus is among the best possible choice to replace Casey. I have no doubt that Petraeus gives us our best chance of turning the conflict around. However, and I would love to be wrong about this, I think that he arrived three years too late.