Rich’s latest column was written from Afghanistan. He offers a clear-eyed assessment of what is happening there — both the difficulty of the task, which is enormous, and his assessment that progress, and eventually success, are possible. In Rich’s words:
No one here underestimates the difficulty of this task, the work of years. But the implicit message from American commanders is that the Afghan war hasn’t failed — it hasn’t truly been tried. While the coalition has made painful sacrifices over the years, it hasn’t had sufficient resources to deal with an insurgency that seemed defeated in 2002-2004. American commanders are confident that the Taliban doesn’t have much inherent popular appeal (opinion surveys bear them out) and that a war-weariness in the population makes the establishment of order possible. Afghanistan isn’t the inevitably ungovernable basket-case of popular imagination. It enjoyed relative stability through much of the 20th century before its agony commenced in the late 1970s… Since the effect of this wrenching work [Gen. David McKiernan’s determination to keep after the enemy and a long summer of combat] won’t be evident until next year’s fighting season, it will obviously create a political vulnerability for President Obama. He’d do well to note a crucial element of the surge in Iraq — an American president with a stomach of steel.
It’s fortuitous, then, that next Tuesday, March 31 at 8:30 a.m., an important and necessary new organization, The Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), is hosting a half-day conference in Washington, D.C. to discuss how the United States and our allies can succeed in Afghanistan. The conference — which will include an impressive group of foreign-policy experts and members of Congress (including a conversation with Senator McCain) — will reflect on recent developments and examine the options confronting the Obama administration. (You can register here.)
The attention of the nation is, for understandable reasons, focused on the economy right now. But national-security matters remain central, and Afghanistan, along with Pakistan, are near the top rank of our concerns. If we fail in Afghanistan, the consequences will be baleful. That need not happen; success is possible there, just as it was in Iraq. But success will require hard work and hard thinking. That is what will be happening next Tuesday at the Mayflower Hotel.