One of the most discomfiting aspects of the forthcoming U.S. pullout from Iraq is what it portends for Afghanistan. In a nutshell, it appears more and more likely that Obama will pull out of Afghanistan too, even though the war there is far from won. Thus we read in the Wall Street Journal today: “The Obama administration is exploring a shift in the military’s mission in Afghanistan to an advisory role as soon as next year, senior officials said, a move that would scale back U.S. combat duties well ahead of their scheduled conclusion at the end of 2014.”
The Afghan army is capable but still needs time to develop. If we pull out too fast the army could fracture and the entire country could be plunged into a civil war which would, among other possible consequences, allow Afghan territory to once again become a haven forand other transnational terrorist groups.
That seems a high price to pay for the president to be able to campaign for reelection on a promise of having ended George W. Bush’s wars. In reality these are America’s wars and they cannot be ended with a unilateral pullout—our premature departure simply risks handing an unearned victory to our enemies.Maybe Max Boot should contemplate the possibility that we've already won in Afghanistan.
Do I mean that Afghanistan has become a Jeffersonian democracy, or that the Taliban have been decisively routed? No. But those weren't the goals of the war when we started. We invaded the country with the hope of destroying or capturing the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks, and to punish the Taliban regime for harboring those perpetrators.
Boot's second paragraph—"The Afghan army is capable but still needs time to develop"—could've been written any time in the last 10 years, and I predict it will be equally applicable 10 years from now. In certain respects, Afghanistan as a nation-state is a lost cause. So the wisest thing to do is for the United States to invest its diminishing resources in ways that offer our optimal chances at security.
I'm not sure there's enough original Al Qaeda left to have a "haven" anywhere, but the job of the United States isn't to keep Al Qaeda from existing—an impossible task—but to suppress, discourage, and defend against Al Qaeda's attacks. Given that the "homeland" terror attacks of recent years have been small-bore operations—one guy with explosive underwear, one guy leaving an SUV in Times Square, and one self-radicalized Army officer attacking his colleagues—there's very little to suggest that Al Qaeda needs a whole country as a haven, or that mooring of tens of thousands of troops in that country is a wise use of our resources.
We have been in Afghanistan a decade. We have accomplished the vast majority of what we'll probably accomplish there. And it's not like we're ceding the ground to terrorists: Obama plans to leave counterterror operations in place—there's just going to be a whole lot less nation-building. It's an imperfect ending, but it may be the best we can hope for.