If it wasn't obvious from yesterday's post, my mood regarding Afghanistan has been a bit "Charge of the Light Brigade" recently. "All in the valley of death rode the six hundred" and all that rot. I'm not quite that pessimistic, of course. I think that there is a chance that we'll succeed. Maybe a good chance, if we define success low enough. But the problem is that any success we get is unlikely to look like the kind of success that we want.
So my support for President Obama's strategy -- indeed, for an even greater commitment of troops than he authorized -- is not based on the thought that we might "win" this one. I support the strategy because the alternatives are much, much worse.
I see a lot of the same resigned support in Andrew Sullivan's post of this morning:
I think this strategy is doomed. But then I think any strategy that does not pledge to colonize Afghanistan, pour trillions of dollars into it and stay for a century is doomed. So why do I end up this morning feeling rather similar to my colleague, Jim Fallows, who simply sighs: 'Well, I hope he's right"?
Here's why. The sanest option - leave now - would leave allies high and dry, prompt domestic cries of surrender, demoralize the military, break a clear campaign pledge, and signal to Pakistan that the Taliban is their problem now. Everything but the latter are worth avoiding.
Sullivan is even more pessimistic than pessimistic me, but, then, he's a English Catholic. That's a whole different order of pessimism: He probably views the Charge of the Light Brigade as a delightful romp through a sun-filled valley of flowers. It strikes me that his definition of sanity, however, is a little strange. If the leaving Afghanistan now "would leave allies high and dry, prompt domestic cries of surrender, demoralize the military, break a clear campaign pledge, and signal to Pakistan that the Taliban is their problem now," that is not the "sanest option."
Moreover, Sullivan hasn't even touched on the best reasons why we shouldn't "leave now". Sullivan notes that "Al Qaeda is based in Pakistan, not Afghanistan." What he doesn't note is why: Al Qaeda is now based in Pakistan because we're in Afghanistan. How long after we leave before they come back? A lot of ink is spilled on how chaos Afghanistan might affect Pakistan. That worry is justified. But Afghanistan also sits near several key energy pipelines. Even if Pakistan is unaffected by an imploding Afghanistan, the fires may light other vital interests. And what of the Afghan people? We can barely deliver social services or improvement dollars now; how are we going to do it when there are no foreign troops providing security? We can barely find and kill al Qaeda with extensive, in-country support force. It will be harder -- much harder -- to conduct the kind of special ops war that some on the left prefer without that support.
True, Al Qaeda and the Taliban are unlikely to topple the Afghan government at the moment. But the government is weak. All bets are off should we leave. We should not be willing to see the Taliban and their Al Qaeda allies come back to power. The danger of another attack is too great; the signal sent is all wrong; the price for 9/11 should be greater.
The situation is bad. But the costs -- the blood and treasure, lives and lucre -- that got us to this point are sunk. We can't get them back. The choice now is between bad and worse. President Obama leveled with you last night, and he chose bad. That was the right move. He deserves your support.
By the way: A lot of Republicans support Obama's plan, but are pushing back against his deadline for withdrawal in 2011. I understand the argument against the deadline, but I think these Republicans miss the bigger picture. There is no popular support for an open-ended commitment, either in the US or abroad. Without a deadline, there is no surge and no chance to convince allies to aid us. Obama's surge does not exist without a deadline.
UPDATE: What if Obama's surge doesn't work? What if it gets worse, not better? My tentative, working answer is: we lost, then. Completely. Like the Russians before us.