One of the minor disgraces of this year's campaign is that the presidential candidates act as if the war in Afghanistan doesn't exist. We have 84,000 troops fighting over there in very difficult circumstances; they've had a tough few weeks, with 41 killed in the last month, but the candidates barnstorm the country with barely a mention of the war or the troops.
Tuesday's Wall Street Journal features a very important piece on Afghanistan by Kim and Fred Kagan. The Kagans show how irresponsible it would be for the president to announce the withdrawal of a substantial number of troops in July, as some political advisers in the White House are advocating. They also point out how irresponsible it would be to establish a "bookend" of announcing the planned withdrawal of all the surge troops in 2012.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Michael Mullen, famously said in 2007 that “in Afghanistan, we do what we can. In Iraq, we do what we must.” That strategic view was supposed to change when Barack Obama was elected president. It was candidate Obama, after all, who argued that the war in Iraq was the wrong war to be fighting, and a significant distraction from the far more important conflict in Afghanistan.
President Obama sure did cover a lot of ground last week in his address to the nation announcing the end of combat operations in Iraq. At times the speech resembled one of those late-night, beer-fueled freshman dorm bull sessions, where you start off discussing Led Zeppelin and end up ten hours later debating the ontological principle.
Though he'll regretably be remembered most for his turn in Rolling Stone, we should not forget Gen. Stanley McChrystal's contributions to his country, the Army, and the conflict in Afghanistan.
At McChrystal's Fort McNair retirement ceremony Friday, Robert Gates said of the general, "Over the past decade, arguably no single American has inflicted more fear, more loss of freedom and more loss of life on our country's most vicious and violent enemies than Stan McChrystal."
In light of Erin Sheley's appreciation of William Stuntz in this week's issue of THE WEEKLY STANDARD, readers might be interested in the (if I may say so, terrific) articles Stuntz has published in this magazine. They all have intrinsic merit, but the first two were also of some historic importance—they were passed around at the White House, were read (we’re told) by President Bush, and helped make the case for the surge in Iraq.
I simply do not believe that we can establish a lasting westernized democracy in a society that has been based on tribal cultural ties for centuries. Furthermore, the mountainous terrain in Afghanistan, as well as the porous and uncontrolled border region with Northern Pakistan, makes control of this area exceedingly difficult. Iraq's terrain and culture were and are much more suited to these types of operations. I still believe that there was much strategic value to establishing a friendly Iraqi government in a critical region of the world that includes Iran, Syria, Israel, and others. While I acknowledge the significance of Pakistan’s possession of, by some estimates, as many as 100 nuclear weapons, I just don't believe that control of Afghanistan has the same strategic value.
I'm hoping to speak to Campbell later today and will report back then.