One step ahead of the Washington Post

One step ahead of the Washington Post

Dan Twining on Shadow Government yesterday:

If Iraq was "Bush’s War," Afghanistan may well become "Obama’s War." But as the New York Times reports today, the Obama administration is attempting to shift the goalposts in Afghanistan away from building a functioning democracy and toward the limited objective of denying terrorists sanctuary on Afghan soil.

This is troubling, but also ironic: As President Obama promises to "end" (rather than "win") the war in Iraq so that he can focus on what parts of his antiwar base have always defined as "the good war," U.S. objectives in Afghanistan have been redefined away from nation-building, promoting good governance, and fostering long-term development. Instead, as Secretary of Defense Gates has said (and not just once), America must be realistic rather than starry-eyed about what we can accomplish in the graveyard of empires.

This sounds reasonable enough. But it is such a cramped definition of "victory" that it puts the chances of long-term success in doubt — a difficult balancing act, to be sure, as Peter Feaver suggests below. The Bush administration concluded in last year’s Afghan Strategy Review that a near-term focus on security is essential to creating an enabling environment for governance and development. But in this equation, security is the means to the end of a cohesive, democratic state connected to its people through functioning and accountable institutions. Security is not the end in itself.

The Washington Post today:

So why make it sound as if the Obama administration is scaling back U.S. ambitions? Part of this may be pure politics, to assure the antiwar left — not to mention other Americans — that the United States is not about to follow Russia and Britain into an Afghan quagmire. Yet the new administration, and supporters such as Mr. Kerry, ought to recognize a greater political need, which is to make clear to the country that the war against terrorism — whatever it is now called — did not end on Jan. 20 and that Afghanistan in particular will require years more patience and sacrifice to get right.

The way to avoid a quagmire is not to hold back on U.S. military reinforcements or development aid but to assemble a national civil-military plan that integrates war-fighting with reconstruction and political reconciliation. As Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) points out, such a plan was the foundation of the U.S. recovery in Iraq, but the model has never been applied in Afghanistan. That’s largely because the United States must share authority with some 40 allies, many of which place strict limits on what their troops may do, insist on managing their own development programs, or both. The Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai, mired in corruption and increasingly at odds with U.S. commanders, is also not on board.

Afghanistan doesn’t need to become the 51st state, but it does need a single, coherent, integrated plan to become a state strong enough to resist the Taliban and al-Qaeda.