What To Do In Afghanistan?

George Will has a provocative article in this morning’s Washington Post in which he says it is time to get out of Afghanistan. The article is a response to the arrival in Washington of a report from Gen. Stanley McChrystal, sent to Afghanistan by President Obama to assess the situation and make recommendations. McChrystal’s report says that the Taliban is stronger and more resilient than previously believed but that the war can still be won. The report call for the dispatch of more troops.

While McChrystal believes a counter-insurgency strategy, combined with nation-building, similar to that adopted in Iraq by Gen. David Petraeus, is the key to success in Afghanistan. Mr. Will asks: What can success mean? If the goal is to prevent a failed state from becoming again a training ground for terrorists, then surely we must go into Somalia too. And, he views the task of nation-building in this remote country where empires break as a fools’ errand. He quotes a Dutch commander to the effect that traveling through the region is "like walking through the Old Testament." The government is Afghan President Hamid Karzai is notoriously corrupt and an unfit vehicle for reform. Better to just walk away.


George Will harkens back to the isolationism of the Republican Party before Sen. Arthur Vandenberg agreed with Sen. Harry Truman that America needed to contain the expansionism of the Soviet Union and Gen. Dwight Eisenhower defeated Sen. Robert Taft for the Republican nomination in 1952. If a problem abroad appears historically insoluble, why should we try and solve it? Do we Americans have the will to see such a long-term commitment through to success? Will brings up the analogy of Vietnam and wonders if "our Afghans" will be anymore effective than "our Vietnamese" were in prosecuting their own war in favor of our interests. Better to stay home.

These are all fair questions, but Will neglects the manner in which Americans of both political parties did, in fact, work year-in and year-out to contain the Soviet Union. That war was usually cold, not hot, so popular opposition only manifested itself when the war turned hot and the casualties mounted in Korea and Vietnam. Certainly, the White House and the Pentagon are well advised to view the Taliban as a problem to be contained and to adopt efforts that keep the war as cold as possible.

The oddest thing about George Will’s column is the timing. The questions he raises could all have been raised last year or the year before. Will knows that in terms of domestic politics, the worst thing President Obama could do is to pull out of Afghanistan abruptly. He would appear weak. And, if a terrorist blew up a tree with a Molotov cocktail, Will’s rightwing buddies would be denouncing the President for failing to keep America safe. So, read Will’s column and let it provoke you to consider the complexity of our task in Afghanistan. But, that task remains worth pursuing until we see more in the way of failure than we have.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
9 years 4 months ago
Your last paragraph applies to the situation a year ago.  All you left-wingers and your buddies were crying to get out, knowing that it would make President Bush look weak and you all could have yelled that he failed to make America safe.  Your are an inconsistent lot. 
9 years 4 months ago
On this issue, Obama has more Republicans with him than Democrats.  He's Bush III.  I'm saddened by what he's doing, but too old and tired to be outraged.  I was for trying to round up bin Laden like the criminal he was.  I was against invading Iraq and am against this latest militarism in Afghanistan. 
Relief workers felt safer before we beefed up our military presence there.  Clear cut relief efforts, without any foreign guns around, tend not to be bombed or attacked.  When we bomb or air-strike some village, all foreigners including relief workers are regarded with suspicion.  Why can't we see that our military is another foreign invader?      
9 years 4 months ago
This, more than a failure to implement a meaningful change to healthcare, could be Obama's undoing of any chance for re-election in 2012.
9 years 4 months ago
We do not as Americans generally like the idea of tragedy.  We like to think we have the will, the wisdom, the intelligence, and the power to solve all problems.  But I suspect that Afghanistan is verging on tragedy.  I am very sketpical that we have the wisdom, the power, the will, and the intelligence to bring Afghanistan to a good conclusion.  But to leave the people to the cruelties of the Taliban (e.g. throwing acid in the faces of girls going to school for the crime of wanting an education) seems no  solution.  There is an awful passage in Macbeth: "I am in blood stepped in so far that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious to go o'er. "
We should all pray that this is not the case, but I fear that it is.
9 years 4 months ago
Never thought I'd say this, but I agree with Will - except for the bombings in country.  Better a watch at the perimeter, using our technology, and interdicting attempts to transport terrorism outside the country.  Contain terrorism rather than stir it up.  Actually I agree with Gary Trudeau in today's Doonesbury strip, the character who says; ''This war IS unwinnable.  We have a shot at defeating or containing terrorists like Al Qaeda, but the Taliban are different.  They're nationionalists, fighting a civil war against a kleptocracy we're propping up.  Sound familiar.  We're back in VIETNAM.''
I remember Vietnam and this IS Vietnam only with mountains and snow.  Trudeau's CIA operative guy nailed it. 
9 years 4 months ago
It's interesting timing is mentioned in this article because the inverse is true as well.  Where are all the anti-war lefties?  Why was Cindy Sheehan thrown overboard by the liberals?  One final point to ponder:  This was the bloodiest month since we invaded Afganistan just under 750 Americans and sadly who knows how many Afgans.  Where's the outrage??????


The latest from america

An extraordinary minister of the holy Eucharist distributes Communion during Mass at Transfiguration Church in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, N.Y. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)
According to a report released by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University on Jan. 22, just 33 percent of bishops in the United States think the church “should” ordain women as deacons.
Michael J. O’LoughlinJanuary 22, 2019

When the poet Mary Oliver died last week at the age of 83, my social media feeds blossomed into a field of tributes.

Lisa AmplemanJanuary 22, 2019
Most of the undocumented immigrants who are in the United States have overstayed a visa and did not cross the border illegally, according to a new analysis from the Center of Migration Studies.
J.D. Long-GarcíaJanuary 22, 2019
The church is my home because my home was a domestic church.
Katie Prejean McGradyJanuary 22, 2019