WEEKLY STANDARD contributing editor Max Boot talks Afghanistan with the Foreign Policy Initiative:
The timeline is a real problem. I see no evidence that it has provided an incentive for the Karzai government to get serious about reform; if anything it has led Karzai to try to strike deals (with Iran, Pakistan, even the Taliban) as a hedge against American withdrawal. The timeline has reinforced the feeling that the Taliban can wait us out. It would be very helpful if President Obama were to be more explicit in saying what most everyone in Washington understands—that he is interpreting the timeline loosely and will not necessarily demand a major withdrawal beginning next summer. Even Joe Biden, the leading opponent of the Afghan counterinsurgency strategy within the administration, has said that the drawdown may only amount to a few thousand troops. That gives Gen. Petraeus a year to show results and try to set back the Washington clock. That’s about the same amount of time he had in Iraq. Even though President Bush didn’t advertise a timeline in advance, there is little doubt that surge troops would have started coming home from Iraq in 2008 whether they had succeeded or not.
In Afghanistan, President Obama is actually said to be operating under a two-year rule—i.e., giving troops two years in any particular location to “clear, hold and build.” Considering that some surge forces are only hitting the ground now, and are entering areas where the coalition has not operated in size before, that means at least two more years of sustained counterinsurgency on the ground to turn around the situation. That gives Petraeus a fighting chance to prevail.