In today’s Wall Street Journal, a top hawkish Democrat — a supporter of Hillary Clinton in the primaries whose hardline views on Iraq forced Hillary to break with him — gives Barack Obama some advice he doesn’t need. This time, it’s on Iraq.
In “How to Win in Afghanistan,” Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution writes:
President-elect Barack Obama has wisely promised an increase in U.S. forces for Afghanistan. But his proposed minisurge of perhaps 15,000 more troops, on top of the 30,000 Americans and 30,000 NATO personnel now there, will not suffice as a strategy. More is needed. …
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates finally reached a decision late this summer to help the Afghans double the size of their Army, a policy that will bring their own total security forces to 200,000. Coupled with the two to three additional brigades of American GIs expected to go to Afghanistan in the coming months, we will collectively reach some 275,000 total coalition troops — an improvement, but still less than half of what has been needed in the smaller country of Iraq.
O’Hanlon doesn’t say exactly what he means when he claims that 275,000 troops, including 75,000 US and NATO forces, is only “half” of what’s needed. How many are truly needed? He doesn’t say. Suffice it say, however, that O’Hanlon’s advice is utterly wrong. That doesn’t mean that Obama won’t take it.
Generals, at least the ones in Afghanistan and at Centcome, want more, more more. No surprise there. But there are many people who believe that sending more troops isn’t the answer, and one of them is the British ambassador to Afghanistan, who argued recently:
“It is the American presidential candidates who must be dissuaded from getting further bogged down in Afghanistan. [Sending more troops] would have perverse effects: it would identify us even more strongly as an occupation force and would multiply the targets [for the insurgents].”
The British and French, working closely with Saudi Arabia, have been pushing hard for talks with the Taliban to end the war. Key leaders of both Pakistan and Afghanistan have been involved in those talks, too. Now, bringing the despicable Taliban into a power-sharing deal in Kabul would be distasteful, to say the least. And many powers in the region — including Iran, Russia, and, especially, India — would be horrified by the idea of the Taliban coming to power again in Afghanistan, and so they would have to be brought into the deal, in support of more liberal (and mostly non-Pashtun) political cliques in Afghanistan, to underwrite a deal that works. And, of course, all of that depends on the Taliban making good on its promise to make a complete break with Al Qaeda.
General David Petraeus, who’s cooking up a new strategy for Afghanistan, is said to be open to the idea of talking to the Taliban. (If I were a leader in India, Russia, or Iran, though, watching Petraeus at work, I would be afraid, very afraid.) Petraeus’ strategy, and one which many Obama advisers buy into, is “surge and negotiate.” General Surge, as Petraeus ought to be called, believes that more troops are needed in Afghanistan now, because the Taliban won’t negotiate at present because they think they’re winning. So, the argument goes, send a bunch more American troops over there, so we can really sock it to the Taliban, and then — finally, then! — we can talk to them.
I have a news flash for Petraeus. The Taliban think they’re winning because they are winning. Sending more troops won’t help. It will only inflame right-wing Muslims to support the Taliban more strongly, build Pashtun nationalism, destabilize Pakistan, and kill a lot of Afghan civilians. Here’s an alternative strategy for Obama: “withdraw and negotiate.” As Obama wants to do, sensibly, in Iraq, he can offer the insurgents in Afghanistan a deal: a timetable for an American and NATO withdrawal, linked to a jirga-style negotiation process to bring the Taliban and other Islamist formations into a deal. It will take skillful diplomacy, support from Afghanistan’s neighbors, and a lot of cash up front (to bribe the tribes and Taliban-types). And it will take a sincere effort by Obama to convince Muslims that he is putting an end to the reckless and ham-handed Global War on Terror.