The uncertainty in Washington about how to proceed with the war in Afghanistan is dismaying, and potentially very dangerous. Disagreement between politicians and the military is the sure-fire path to disaster in war. It’s a bad omen that members of Congress are trooping into the White House to give their opinion about what should be done in Afghanistan. What does Nancy Pelosi, say, know about the conduct of war? Nor is any member of the general public in a position to judge whether General McChrystal is right to ask for 40,000 more troops, or what the number ought to be. The general has to be assumed to be making a correct estimate. What is totally fatuous is to measure this request for reinforcements against public opinion, and come up with some compromise figure, as reports are suggesting. The aim to satisfy all parties will end by satisfying none. The men in the field are demoralized by the political process going on over their heads, allies become even more cynical and unhelpful, and the polls show a quickening disapproval of the war itself. Delaying, prevaricating about “strategy,” President Obama is going wobbly in full view of everyone.
General McChrystal has made it clear that in present circumstances failure in Afghanistan is as likely as success. At the tactical level it is indeed wasteful to capture a position from the Taliban only to withdraw because there are not enough troops to hold it, thus allowing the Taliban to return only to be thrown out again — it’s a vicious circle that needs to be broken. It’s also a microcosm of the entire predicament. We are in Afghanistan because the terror attacks of 9/11 were originally conceived and mounted there, and inaction on our part was bound to encourage Islamists of every stripe to further acts of terror. In their mindset, they destroyed the Soviet superpower, and now are tackling the United States, so weak-willed that it is virtually a pushover, hardly a superpower at all. Nation-building in Afghanistan is the only possible riposte, and that is going to be a long haul, demanding, and probably imperfect on account of the ethnic, tribal, and sectarian mix. The alternative of leaving the country to the Taliban is also to offer nuclear-armed Pakistan as their next objective, and then other Muslim countries too. Should Islamism have a free hand both against other Muslims and against us, all sorts of wars become all too easy to imagine, and we won’t be speaking of needing 40,000 more troops here or there but more likely 4 million.