Reconciliation and Resolve in Afghanistan

A number of polls have shown declining support for the American military mission to Afghanistan. CBS News recently reported that “Four in 10 now say they want U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan decreased …” And CNN survey last week reported that “Fifty-seven percent of Americans … say they oppose the U.S. war in Afghanistan, with 42 percent supporting the military mission.”

As is always the case in ongoing military conflicts, the key item is the percentage who favor an immediate troop withrawal. And there’s little support for that. As Rasmussen reported yesterday, just 20 percent support an immediate pullout, and “Fifty-two percent (52%) see no need for a withdrawal or a timetable right now.” Still, there’s indeed been a downward drift in public support, and the hard lefties are pushing the meme that the Obama administration’s at odds with public opinion and it’s time to end the deployment (see here, here, and here).

Derrick Crowe, at Firedoglake goes so far as to say, “We Know Failure When We See It.” He’s arguing specifically that “counterinsurgency” in Afghanistan has collapsed:

In other words, the U.S. counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan has been a total failure.

Reports indicate General McChrystal will soon ask for 20,000 more troops for this debacle. The President and Congress should say no and end our military involvement in Afghanistan as quickly as possible.

Check the link. Crowe’s basic case is that the U.S. has failed to gain the support of the ethnic Pashtuns, and continued efforts to that effect are doomed to failure.

But Crowe is blinded by his classic leftist antiwar hatred, and his analysis can’t be taken seriously. The fact is, of course, that counterinsurgency is a key element of the larger strategic context of U.S. policy in the region. According to Fotini Christia and Michael Semple, “Flipping the Taliban: How to Win in Afghanistan“:

The core rationale for the current NATO mission in Afghanistan is to ensure that the Afghan authorities can prevent the Taliban’s al Qaeda allies from exploiting Afghanistan as a base for terrorist operations. If they want to extricate themselves from the insurgency and become part of Afghanistan’s new deal, Taliban commanders will have to demonstrate that they have broken with al Qaeda.

Also, Spencer Ackerman recently questioned the strategic rationale for sending additional troops, “Wait, We Need How Many More Troops For Afghanistan?” He argues there’s no “consensus” on the need for additional forces.

Yet, according to Christia and Semple:

Of all the shortcomings of the Afghan government and its NATO allies, it is the failure to provide security for ordinary Afghans that has most prevented large-scale reconciliation in the country. The Taliban have worked diligently to make the costs of reconciliation prohibitively high. “It is amazing to see how sensitive and scared everyone in Kandahar is to talk about the Taliban and the government reconciling,” an Afghan scholar researching the reconciliation conundrum told us in April. “There is no [government] strategy in place to defy antipeace and antireconciliation attempts.” Indeed, so far, the weakness of the Karzai administration and the steady spread of insecurity across the country’s Pashtun areas, in the east and the south, have boosted the position of those insurgents who favor continuing the conflict.

In order for reconciliation to work, ordinary Afghans will have to feel secure. The situation on the ground will need to be stabilized, and the Taliban must be reminded that they have no prospect of winning their current military campaign. If the Afghan government offers reconciliation as its carrot, it must also present force as its stick — hence, the importance of sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, but also, in the long term, the importance of building up Afghanistan’s own security forces. Reconciliation needs to be viewed as part of a larger military-political strategy to defeat the insurgency, like the one Washington has pursued recently in Iraq: win over the insurgents who are willing to reconcile, and kill or capture those who are not.

The reference to Iraq is significant. When the U.S. lost control of Iraq’s security the radical left’s nilihist contigents smelled victory for “the resistance.” Fortunately, the administration made strategic adjustments, and under the Petraeus surge we turned things around. As military security improved, so did public support. According to a Wall Street Journal survey on the Iraq war earlier this year, “the public is mostly satisfied with the results, with 53% saying the war has been successful, up from 43% in July 2008.”

Success matters. As the U.S. beefs up its contingents in Afghanistan, and as it continues its work in “flipping the Taliban,” public opinion will hold steady. The worst outcome will be for the Obama administration to cave to the antiwar defeatists and order a downturn in U.S. engagement. Should that happen, international security will deteriorate, and President Obama will become known as the first U.S. president to lose a war in the post-9/11 era.

Cross-posted at American Power.

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