On the heels of a deeply flawed election in Afghanistan -- with a deeply flawed "victor," Mr. Karzai -- it's not surprising that lots of folks in the US are questioning our mission there. It's not even all that surprising that Publius ("Is Afghanistan Worth It?") would crawl into bed with George Will ("Time To Get Out Of Afghanistan"). Lack of success breeds skepticism and doubt; these are the ultimate elixers of post-partisanship.
But the recent setbacks do not mean that the US should heed the advice of the skeptics. That's because we've already seen the skeptic's alternative plan in action: A stripped down force that fights terrorists and tries to secure the borders. We've had that kind of force in Afghanistan for nearly the past five years. It hasn't worked. That's why President Obama has embarked on a different strategy.* The old strategy -- what George Will would like to see us return to -- was advancing in the wrong direction.
Moreover, Afghanistan is worth fighting for. Not merely for the usual "rah, rah, let's go kill some bad guys" reason: If that was the only goal, then a tactical defeat in Afghanistan would be acceptable. (And, let's face it, that's likely to result if we largely withdraw.) Not merely because we promised to help the Afghans rebuild their country and because keeping our word -- maintaining our honor -- is important. It is important that allies know that the US keeps its word, but the passage of years would largely save our face. Not merely because a perceived defeat of the US reduces our influence over other rogue states and regimes, who would smell weakness (ahem, Iran; North Korea). This consideration is also important but not dispositive: otherwise, the US could never retreat, no matter how good the reasons. And not merely because of the risk that al Queda (or others) will have a safe haven to launch attacks against the US if we leave -- a risk that I think Publius too quickly dismisses in his piece. No one can be confident that the Taliban won't again open their arms to terrorists with the goal to strike at us or our allies. (Contrary to myth, lightening can -- and frequently does -- strike twice.)
These are all factors favoring President Obama's strategy over the skeptics. They might be sufficient for some to support Obama's approach. There are two more reasons, however, that decisively tip the scales in Obama's favor.
First, there is a clear enemy with pernicious goals (the Taliban and its supporters). We are not fighting phantoms, illusions, or an ill-defined group. We're fighting the Taliban and they are not nice people: they offer stagnation, the silence of the burka, and (in the past) safe harbor to terrorists.
Second, that enemy directly destabilizes a nuclear-armed state (Afghanistan's neighbor, Pakistan). It's the impact of Afghanistan on Pakistan -- indeed, on the region -- that is a direct threat to US security and US interests.
It's too soon to give up on Afghanistan.
*Of course Obama's strategy isn't perfect; however, the basic idea -- engagement -- is sound. We also know that Obama's strategy can't be worse than the alternatives being offered: they caused this mess.
UPDATE: Removed a link that was in the wrong place. It's here (Saad Khan, writing in the Huffington Post).
UPDATE 2: It's worth remembering that Pakistan is itself on the verge of finally turning against the Taliban. Withdrawing from Afghanistan may well imperil this process, and give Pakistan a powerful incentive to quiet its border and tribal regions by cutting deals with the Taliban (as Pakistan did prior to 9-11).