“President Obama and Congress owe it to both Afghans and Americans to explore a strategy of power extrication before they make another major decision to expand the war.”
That’s the opinion not of some left-wing activist, but of the chairman of the establishment, the president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, Leslie Gelb. It appears in an op-ed in the New Yortk Times today, entitled: “How to Leave Afghanistan.” It’s especially notable for two reasons: first, it comes on the eve of the release of President Obama’s Afghanistan review, which will be issued this month, and second, because it appears just above a piece called “How to Surge the Taliban” by Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute, et al. Kagan, his daughter Kimberly, and Max Boot of CFR were invited to Afghanistan by David Petraeus, the Centcom commander. It was Kagan, of course, who was the architect of the Iraq surge and who concludes in this piece that the war against the Taliban will be easier than the one in Iraq’s insurgents. Gelb concludes exactly the opposite:
We can’t defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan. … As nasty as the Taliban are, America’s vital interests do not require their exclusion from power in Afghanistan, so long as they don’t support international terrorists. … Trying to eliminate the Taliban and Qaeda threat in Afghanistan is unattainable, while finding a way to live with, contain and deter the Taliban is an achievable goal.
Instead of victory, Gelb proposes a diplomatic and economic surge, combined with a timetable for a US withdrawal over three years.
Elsewhere in the Times, reporter Helene Cooper provides an early glimpse of Obama’s Afghan strategy. It includes efforts to “seek some kind of political reconciliation with the vast majority of insurgents in the region, according to administration officials.” She cites Joe Biden’s comments, reported by me earlier, at NATO, in which he said that 70 percent of the Taliban are just paid foot-soldliers and only 5 percent are hard-core. And she adds this stunner about the number of hard-core insurgents: