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Obama's Afghanistan Metrics

Steve Coll analyzes, and asks good questions:

Here, however, is objective 3b: “Promote a more capable, accountable, and effective government in Afghanistan that serves the Afghan people and can eventually function, especially regarding internal security, with limited international support.” There is some carefully modest language in that sentence; nonetheless, it crosses into the realm of nation-building, including the construction of political legitimacy for an Afghan government that is accused of having just tried to steal a national election. Metrics used to judge this objective would include “institutions at the national, provincial and local level, including ability to hold credible elections in 2009 and 2010”; we already know what that report card looks like. Other indicators include the “volume and value of narcotics,” “demonstrable action by the government against corruption, resulting in increased trust and confidence of the Afghan public,” “support for human rights,” and “economic stability and development with emphasis on agriculture.”

These metrics map the borders of the coming debate, which will unfold during the next six or eight weeks, over the Administration’s war strategy and whether more American troops are required to support it. Is objective 3b, which amounts to the pursuit of a stable and minimally credible Afghan government, achievable? Is the pursuit of objective 3b necessary to achieve objectives 1 and 2? If so, will the dispatch of more U.S. soldiers and Marines, beyond those already in the country, create stabilizing or impeding effects? If more troops are a potential source of time-buying stability, but it is understood that they cannot play a lead role indefinitely, how likely is it that they can succeed in a temporary mission aimed at developing Afghan forces and Afghan governance? These are the sorts of questions on which the Obama Administration’s success or failure in the war will turn.

I would add that the sort of thing described in objective 3b seemed very much absent from Obama's March address about Afghanistan--and certainly from the administration marketing of it as being narrowly focused on rooting out al Qaeda. It's troubling but one does get the feeling that the administration is wary about being frank with the public about the broader effort that mission really entails.