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The Neocon View Of Afghanistan

The Nation's Robert Dreyfuss attended an AEI conference on the so-called good war, where there was talk of a new brand of liberal defeatism:

The final speaker was Fred Kagan, one of the principal architects of the 2007-2008 surge in Iraq and a former professor of military history who is now a resident scholar at AEI. Like Donnelly, Kagan was upset at what appear to be efforts by Obama and Co. to "define success down," that is, to come up with drastically limited goals for the war. He ridiculed what he called "Holbookian hyperventilating" about how hard the task in Afghanistan is, referring to Obama envoy Richard Holbrooke's recent comments that the Afghan war is a lot harder than Iraq.

Most importantly, perhaps, Kagan slammed those who believe that solving the Afghan crisis means dealing with Pakistan and viewing the war in a regional context that includes India, Iran, and other countries. That's likely to be the core of Obama's strategy, but Kagan was having none of it. "I question the truism that success in Afghanistan is contingent on success in Pakistan," he said.

They key question, said Kagan, is whether Obama will do what Petraeus wants, or will he listen to those pesky liberals and critics. "Is President Obama going to listen to the military commander who turned one war [Iraq] around. Or is he going to listen to other advice?"

Kagan, incidentally, recently wrote a long National Review essay laying out several principles for Obama to follow in Afghanistan, including a "counterinsurgency and nation-building strategy that leads the population to reject the terrorists." 

Despite his implicit support above for a big Afghanistan troop uptick, however, the essay's bottom line seems to be this:

While the situation in Afghanistan is indeed deteriorating, it would be wrong to rush forces out of Iraq this year in response.... Every estimate suggests that, if we maintain such a presence this year, the requirement for continued U.S. forces in Iraq after 2009 will drop dramatically. We can surge troops into Afghanistan, in other words, in 2010 without compromising success in Iraq, and after we have developed the command and logistical structures—and, above all, the plan-to support them in Afghanistan. Therefore, sound grand strategy means using 2009 to set the conditions for decisive operations in Afghanistan while ensuring that Iraq remains stable enough to permit dramatic force reductions.

In fact, you might expect some foreign policy conservatives to be happy about liberal 'defeatism' in Afghanistan, because it undercuts the argument that we should poach troops from Iraq, which the neocon right is in no hurry to leave.

--Michael Crowley