Notes on the War in Afghanistan: Why we can win

U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Dwight Bevill talks to an Afghan man about local issues in Zama, Afghanistan, Nov. 2, 2009. Bevill is assigned to Provincial Reconstruction Team Paktika, and meets with villages leaders to plan future development projects. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Dallas Edwards

U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Dwight Bevill talks to an Afghan man about local issues in Zama, Afghanistan, Nov. 2, 2009. Bevill is assigned to Provincial Reconstruction Team Paktika, and meets with villages leaders to plan future development projects. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Dallas Edwards

Earlier this month, scholar Victor Davis Hanson outlined in typically excellent fashion the following:

As President Obama decides whether to send more troops to Afghanistan, we should remember that most of the conventional pessimism about Afghanistan is only half-truth.

He also noted this:

Other mythologies about Afghanistan abound.

Is the country ungovernable? No more so than any of the region’s other rough countries. After the founding of the modern state in 1919, Afghanistan enjoyed a relatively stable succession of constitutional monarchs until 1973. The country was once considered generally secure, tolerant and hospitable to foreigners.

Click here to read his article.

Syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote a column last month about President Barack Obama’s slow decision making on what to do in Afghanistan titled “Young Hamlet’s Agony.” In it, he wrote:

When the world’s expert on this type of counterterrorism warfare recommends precisely the opposite strategy – ‘counterinsurgency,’ meaning a heavy-footprint, population-protecting troop surge – you have the most convincing of cases against counterterrorism by the man who most knows its potential and its limits. And McChrystal was emphatic in his recommendation: To go any other way than counterinsurgency would lose the war.

Yet his commander in chief, young Hamlet, frets, demurs, agonizes. His domestic advisers, led by Rahm Emanuel, tell him if he goes for victory, he’ll become LBJ, the domestic visionary destroyed by a foreign war. His vice president holds out the chimera of painless counterterrorism success.

Against Emanuel and [Vice President Joe] Biden stand [General] David Petraeus, the world’s foremost expert on counterinsurgency (he saved Iraq with it), and Stanley McChrystal, the world’s foremost expert on counterterrorism. Whose recommendation on how to fight would you rely on?

Scholar Frederick W. Kagan provided some very important history and information back in September in an article in the Wall Street Journal. (The one point of emphasis added – that last paragraph, is crucial.)

Trying to win in Afghanistan is not a fool’s errand, however. Where coalition forces have conducted properly resourced counterinsurgency operations in areas such as Khowst, Wardak, Lowgar, Konar and Nangarhar Provinces in the eastern part of the country, they have succeeded despite the legendary xenophobia of the Pashtuns.

Poorly designed operations in Helmand Province have not led to success. Badly under-resourced efforts in other southern and western provinces, most notably Kandahar, have also failed. Can well-designed and properly-resourced operations succeed? There are no guarantees in war, but there is good reason to think they can. Given the importance of this theater to the stability of a critical and restive region, that is reason enough to try.

Afghanistan is bigger and more primitive than Iraq, but the U.S. and NATO are also much more popular than they were in 2007 in Iraq’s Anbar province. Very few Afghans want the Taliban back in power. If foreign forces can provide enough security in the near term while we build Afghanistan’s army and police forces, another counterinsurgency success should be possible. The worst choice Mr. Obama could make would be to repeat Mr. Bush’s errors in Iraq in 2005 and 2006, when he talked about ‘clear, hold and build’ without enough troops to do the job. Better to start with enough force, rather than having to ask for more every six months.

As for the recent elections, the allegations of fraud seem widespread and blatant enough to be credible. The Afghan electoral commission will have to decide if the cheating warrants a new election, but clearly it would be better for the victor’s legitimacy if there were a runoff that was handled with better supervision. Mr. Karzai should understand that a tainted victory will only complicate his task of organizing a more effective government, which is also essential to winning a counterinsurgency.

In any case, the fight in Afghanistan is not about nation building or turning a tribal state into Westminster. The goal is to provide enough stability and Afghan support to prevent the country from once again becoming a sanctuary for terrorists who could attack the U.S. In short, this is a fight in our strategic interests. Leaving Afghanistan in its current state would be a defeat in the larger war on terror, which would encourage jihadists everywhere.