I shudder to write this -- but put me in the George Will camp (cough, ack, glurrp) on Afghanistan. (Sorry, that's a tough phrase to get out). I have two basic reasons: (1) The goal of preventing Taliban control isn't a sufficient reason to stay; and (2) Even if it is, our tactics are accomplishing exactly the reverse -- that is, we're empowering the Taliban by staying.
First, the goal. Joe Klein writes:
But there are two analytically distinct points embedded in there. Even assuming the Taliban regains control (which I would abhor), it doesn't necessarily follow that they would turn around and provide a safe haven.
To me, that's the million dollar question. What exactly is the evidence that the Taliban would provide a safe haven? Unless such evidence exists, I don't see any national security interest whatsoever in Afghanistan, with or without the Taliban.
Via our own Eric Martin, Stephen Biddle is skeptical that al Qaeda would be welcomed back. But even if they were, he thinks we could disrupt them in ways short of massive occupation. Stephen Walt has also been skeptical, but Peter Bergen disagrees. In any event, this is the key debate. Advocates of staying need to demonstrate why these safe havens would re-emerge, especially in light of the enormous costs that the Taliban has incurred in the past for housing al Qaeda.
But even assuming that preventing Taliban re-rule is a legitimate national security interest, there's still the question of tactics. To be blunt, we seem to be helping the Taliban more than hurting them.
Via CFR, I just read this white paper from Thomas Ruttig (pdf), and it makes several important points. First, and most importantly, there's really no such thing as "the insurgency" or "the Taliban." In reality, the "insurgency" is an extremely diverse band of various groups and tribes with wildly varying agendas. In fact, many have exclusively local agendas, and could care less about the West.
In addition, Ruttig makes the point that the insurgency is growing because (1) the national and local governments are corrupt and are excluding these groups; and (2) resentment is growing from Western "occupation" and civilian casualties. Al Qaeda-style ideology has very little to do with it.
The upshot, then, is we seem to be pursuing a course that's exacerbating both of these causes. Our escalation will inevitably lead to more civilian casualties (and will stir anti-occupation resentment). And our support for Kabul and its local affiliates will drive more and more disaffected people into the broader insurgency.
The whole thing just seems completely misguided to me, on almost every conceivable level. Which, I suppose, is what makes it so attractive to Bill Kristol.
[UPDATE: Malou Innocent at Cato adds more on these points. Worth checking out.]