It’s Afghanistan week, with President Obama’s Afghanistan review complete and the new strategy for the war set to be released any day now. In his 60 Minutes interview, Obama suggested that he’s leaning toward the “minimalist” theory that the war in Afghanistan has to focus on Al Qaeda and that the United States needs “an exit strategy.” From the transcript:
“What we can’t do is think that just a military approach in Afghanistan is gonna be able to solve our problems. So what we’re looking for is a comprehensive strategy. And there’s gotta be an exit strategy. There’s gotta be a sense that this is not perpetual drift.”
Asked what America’s mission in Afghanistan is, Obama replied:
“Making sure that Al Qaeda cannot attack the U.S. homeland and U.S. interests and our allies. That’s our number one priority. And in service of that priority there may be a whole host of things that we need to do. We may need to build up economic capacity in Afghanistan. We may need to improve our diplomatic efforts in Pakistan.
“We may need to bring a more regional diplomatic approach to bear. We may need to coordinate more effectively with our allies. But we can’t lose sight of what our central mission is. The same mission that we had when we went in after 9/11. And that is these folks can project violence against the United States’ citizens. And that is something that we cannot tolerate.”
But Obama is sending 17,000 more US troops to the war that can’t be won militarily, and he’s talking about “building up economic capacity in Afghanistan,” which could take many years. Are we prepared to stay for years? Is Obama prepared to spend his entire presidency fighting the Afghan war? That’s the question asked by Jackson Diehl in a Washington Post op-ed today, in which Diehl answers in the affirmative. Citing General David McKiernan, who’s demanding a further buildup, Diehl writes:
McKiernan believes the Afghan army, now at 80,000 members, will have to grow to 240,000 before it can defend the country on its own — and that raising it to that level will take until 2016. Would Obama be willing, or politically able, to devote the entirety of his presidency to a war that has already lasted seven years? The thousands of American soldiers and civilians pouring into the country deserve that strategic patience; without it, the sacrifices we will soon hear of will be wasted.
That doesn’t sound like an exit strategy to me.
The indefatigable Walter Pincus, writing in the Post on Sunday, describes the huge buildup of US-funded military infrastructure in Afghanistan, which makes it look even more like we’re settling in for the long haul: