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Victory In Mesopotamia

There's a bit of a donnybrook going on between our own Michael Crowley and far from our own Ezra Klein over the wisdom of an expanded American effort in Afghanistan. That is, an expanded American war in the West Asian country whose history has been written in blood. Yes, as far back as the Romans and the Mongolian hordes.

Now, neither of the journalistic combatants are hawks. And both have taken the lesson that we cannot win in Afghanistan from Iraq. I happen to think that we, more or less, have won in Mesopotamia and will end up withdrawing most of our forces in due course but when circumstances permit. Will there be a long American presence in the country? Yes. Still, I'm antsy about America fighting Karzai's war.

I know that it is official Democratic dogma that Afghanistan must be won, by hook or by crook. It is Obama's dogma, too, and presumably the Democrats felt they had to follow his lead lest the party be seen as wimps. I worried about this during the campaign and I worry about this now. There is now no necessity to one-up the Republicans.

In any case, I did read an authoritative piece on Afghanistan in the Times op-ed page of November 22.  It was written by a young intellectual who has experience in the field. Rory Stewart has written two books, The Places In Between and The Prince of the Marshes. The second is about Iraq; the first is about his walking in solitude across Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and Nepal. Stewart has lived in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Vietnam and Scotland and served in several war theatres with British forces.  Tutor to Prince Harry and Prince William, he also served in Bosnia, Montenegro and as (what one might have been termed in the old days) British regent in southern Iraq. Stewart reminds me of one of the great English travelers and brigadier to Orde Wingate, Wilfred Thesiger. If you don't know him, even from his books and articles, it's your great loss.

In the New York Times, then, Stewart argues the practical impediments to war in Afghanistan and the inordinate psychological distance between the enemies. This is written by a person who clearly admires the Afghanis and must be reluctant to leave their fate to the Taliban. I suspect that Obama won't have time to read this short piece. But he, Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates and others should.

Starting in February, Stewart will follow in the tradition of Michael Ignatieff, who has now won the leadership of the Canadian Liberal Party, and Samantha Power, as director of Harvard's Carr Center for Human Rights.