The Democrats, and President Obama in particular, have backed themselves into a corner in Afghanistan. For several years the Afghan effort served as the rhetorical counterpoint to the war in Iraq; since they did not want to support “Bush’s War,” it gave them a convenient way to appear tough on something. Now that Iraq seems to be going into the win column (no thanks to them), and now that they are in the White House, Democrats have to come to grips with Afghanistan and live up to their rhetoric.
Senator Lieberman’s ideas are spot-on. Note especially the point that as troop strength has increased, conditions have worsened. One caveat–military action has increased in part because Coalition forces are pushing deeper into Taliban-controlled areas, so naturally there is a response. But the overall point, that this situation cannot be solved simply by increasing troop levels, is sound. Afghanistan was a model of success for the “small footprint” war, and for good reasons, particularly our success in working with local forces and leveraging other elements of national power. We have to get back to that initial model and not believe, as the Soviets did (to their detriment) that heavy forces will solve all our problems.
Also important, and something Senator Lieberman recognizes, is that one has to be realistic about what can be achieved in Afghanistan. One must accept a certain level of ambiguity in that country. It will never be a western-style centralized democracy. The provinces will always be controlled by tribal and other local leaders. We will have to negotiate with them if we want to reach an acceptable level of stability. Some of these leaders will be former or current members of the Taliban movement, but we have to get over that and understand that in some cases we can make deals with them. (Indeed, some are already current elected members of parliament.) Afghanistan is not a country that is given to clear-cut, comprehensive, one-size-fits-all solutions. Unfortunately, our government, Democrats in particular, likes those kinds of solutions. They brief well. They appeal to the intellectual class. But that approach will fail in Afghanistan. If the plan seeks to centralize power in Kabul and build up from there, we will soon be facing the same quagmire that vexed the Soviet Union for a decade, until they threw up their hands and slouched back over the border.