The Politico Arena ran my response to the question: Can Obama Split the Difference on Afghanistan?:
is a classic, multi-level decision in which the president must mollify multiple constituencies. Afghanistan hawks will be frustrated with the withdrawal, which threatens their fragile gains – but if they complain too loudly they call attention to the reality that if Afghanistan is so fragile then perhaps their mission is hopeless.
The anti-war faction of the president’s own party will not be happy, but are they unhappy enough to undercut Obama and risk losing control of the White House (particularly with a Republican-controlled House of Representatives)?
According to Stephen Skowronek’s classic “presidential time” Obama is a president practicing the politics of pre-emption. Clinton and his triangulation tactics was the archetype of this sort of presidency. Obama, despite his many stylistic differences with his democratic predecessor is substantively similar. Splitting the difference is standard operating procedure and in general it works pretty well.
One question that must be asked is, “What of Afghanistan?”
By serving as the rock on which the Soviet Union foundered the Afghanis did a favor for all of mankind. For all of the monstrousness of al-Qaeda and its radical Islamic ilk, they are nothing compared to the evil of the Soviet Union. But the Afghanis didn’t ask for this place in history and have suffered terribly for it. Are they owed something for this?
Expanding on my remarks, I don’t know what the right policy for Afghanistan should be. The cost of this war is draining, and it is not clear how our large presence in Afghanistan is helping Pakistan which is a potential nightmare on an unimaginable scale. Could we scale down to a smaller presence which allows a reasonably well-behaved government and Kabul while also allowing us to smack-down concentrations of terrorists? Perhaps.
I cannot surrender the moral question of, “What about the Afghanis?”
Yes, it is a tough place to nation build, but starting with a tough, isolated location, the tender ministrations of the Soviets for over a decade and then the Taliban – little wonder. A social worker friend observed that families of is clients are often frustrated when he can’t resolve problems with a few weeks of therapy. “But,” he tries to explain, “it took years to develop the problem.”
Also, take a look at Arena newcomer, but old hand at international affairs, Ilan Berman’s analysis, which argues that a withdrawal will devastate what remains of US credibility with both allies and adversaries.
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