It was only a few short years ago when the war in Iraq was perceived as a lost cause and an unmitigated disaster. Tides of pessimism washed over our body politic, well reflected in books like Thomas Ricks’s Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2003-2005.
But then came President Bush’s surge and, after a time, a remarkable turnaround. Iraq may or may not prove to be stable after American forces draw down, but at least the country has a fighting chance.
Pessimism about Afghanistan has lately peaked, with even a few conservative voices, like George Will, joining with liberals to call for “disentangling U.S. forces from this misadventure.” But Barack Obama’s Afghanistan surge is now getting under way. New forces are flowing in. Along with the intense handwringing, we are now beginning to see arresting glimmers of hope.
Senators Carl Levin and Jack Reed, both Democrats, both members of the Armed Services Committee, and neither of them exactly foreign policy hawks, have just returned from a tour of Afghanistan. An important Washington Post story quotes them speaking of "'some signs of progress' in the U.S. war effort, including stepped-up recruitment for and mentoring of the Afghan national army.”
Commenting on an Afghan-led operation about to unfold in the Arghandab district northwest of Kandahar, Levin calls it “a very important, dramatic event” and potentially, if the Afghan army holds together in the campaign, the “Taliban's worst nightmare in Afghanistan.”
Obviously, the major tests of the Obama surge lie ahead and, as in all wars, many things can and will go awry. But the comments of Levin and Reed are themselves remarkable, both for what they say about the war itself and for the shift in elite opinion they may herald. We may now be at low tide, the moment when the waters once again begin to rise.