A Responsible Afghan Strategy

A Responsible Afghan Strategy

If the United States ever wishes to leave Afghanistan, it requires a sustained engagement using all elements of national power–military, economic and diplomatic.


Editor’s Note: This essay, by Lawrence J. Korb and Sean E. Duggan of the Center for American Progress, is in response to John Nichols’s March 29 blog post, “A J’Accuse for CAP, MoveOn Afghan Silence.”

Long before President Obama announced his administration’s strategy for Afghanistan, a schism formed in the progressive community not only over how to reverse the deteriorating situation in the country and the region but–in the first place–on whether or not the United States should even attempt to do so. Therefore it was not surprising that the publication of our recent policy report “Sustainable Security in Afghanistan” created much concern within the coalition of organizations and individuals who advocate for a swift and complete US military withdrawal from Afghanistan and the region.

In the report, we and our co-authors outline an effective and responsible strategy for the war in Afghanistan. Recognizing that a resilient Afghan state is a necessary precondition for the United States to one day leave the country, we recommend that the United States enable and support the creation of an Afghan government that is in control of its own territory and that is able to provide for the basic needs of its people. These goals cannot be achieved with the current level of resources and lack of international coordination. Therefore we recommended that the administration implement a regional strategy, commit additional US troops and civilians, and substantially increase in US aid

Given our organization’s (and our personal) long-standing assertion that a US military withdrawal from the war in Iraq was and is a necessary precondition for Iraq’s competing parties to find a stable power-sharing equilibrium, perhaps it comes as a surprise to some that we would “now” call for such a renewed US military, economic, and political commitment to the war in Afghanistan.

But Afghanistan is not Iraq. Unlike the war in Iraq, which was always a war of choice, Afghanistan was and still is a war of necessity. In fact, we have been warning of the consequences of the chronic and unacceptable neglect of the war in Afghanistan since 2005 when we published our first “Strategic Redeployment” plan and again in 2007 when the Center released “The Forgotten Front.” In those reports and the current one, we argue that three vital US interests remain at stake in the country.

First, despite some setbacks, Al Qaeda and its affiliates have regained a strategic safe haven within Afghanistan and Pakistan. Second, a failed Afghanistan would threaten the stability of Pakistan and the region. Finally, Afghanistan’s opium revenues fund regional and international terrorists.

If the United States ever wishes to leave Afghanistan, a sustained US engagement using all elements of national power–military, economic and diplomatic–will be necessary. Moreover, such a sustained effort could last a number of years.

Many wrongly assert that the progressive community is instinctively against all wars. This assertion is both wrong and dangerous. In the words of President Obama, we are not against all wars, just dumb wars. Afghanistan is surely not the latter.

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