The Virtue in Muddling Through in Afghanistan

By Joe Campbell
October 6th, 2009

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Andrew Sullivan’s most recent column was quite good – and it suggests his position on Afghanistan was moved by this Marc Lynch blog post:

[W]hat’s so terrible with muddling through for a while, giving the new tactics a chance to work at the local level while preventing the worst-case scenarios from happening? order accutane canada Why choose between escalation or withdrawal at exactly the time when the political picture is at its least clear? Why not maintain a lousy Afghan government which doesn’t quite fall, keep the Taliban on the ropes without defeating it, cut deals where we can, and try to figture out a strategy to deal with the Pakistan part which all the smart set agrees is the real issue these days? Why not focus on applying the improved COIN tactics with available resources right now instead of focusing on more troops?

…Why is this not the right time to muddle through, avoiding the worst outcomes and changing strategy at the local level where possible, while waiting for the political situation in Afghanistan to clarify? [my emphasis]

This plan makes sense – but I’m not sure it’s the Obama administration’s plan. National Security Advisor Jones said on Sunday that Obama would make a decision about overall Afghanistan policy “in a matter of weeks.” I doubt that’s sufficient time to sort all of these issues out, though certainly it might give time to see what direction each of this issues is heading.

Meanwhile, Peter W. Galbraith has a quality op-ed in the Washington Post based on his first-hand experience in the recent Afghanistan elections which he had a role in attempting to supervise – and in which he alleges that there was massive fraud. He states that he was fired by the United Nations because he refused to go along with their attempts to ignore this fraud. Galbraith’s takeaway point:

President Obama needs a legitimate Afghan partner to make any new strategy for the country work. However, the extensive fraud that took place on Aug. 20 virtually guarantees that a government emerging from the tainted vote will not be credible with many Afghans.

Obama has repeatedly stressed the “consent of the governed” as being essential to the legitimacy of a state, specifically linking the issue to non-fraudulent elections in the case of Iran. To be consistent with his general foreign policy approach of avoiding charges of rank hypocrisy, he must figure out how to respond to what increasingly seems like a fraudulent election in Afghanistan. This is perhaps the main reason behind Lynch’s point that this might not be the time to make a stark choice:

Why choose between escalation or withdrawal at exactly the time when the political picture is at its least clear?

A final note on Afghanistan: It’s irresponsible for Senators to call the Commander-in-Chief an “armchair general” as Senator Jon Kyl did a few days ago.

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