A Solution for Afghanistan: Changing the Mission to Observe and Contain
Obama appears to be re-considering his earlier Afghanistan strategy and is bridling at the military's public blackmailing for yet more troops. The politician in him is rearing, nostrils flared and smelling quagmire. As a statesman, Obama seems smart enough to know he's dealing with a buffer zone, one which should be pragmatically set within a framework of limited goals. Unfortunately, he was sold a much wider bill of goods by self-serving interests, military and commercial, which won't pick up the tab for failure.
Those interests are not used to hearing "No," which is why Obama was stupid enough to start down a full-blown nation-building counter-insurgency path; and so, too, have many others before him. Perhaps it's a combination of natural human optimism, the allure of scientific rationalism, and the colossal rocky boulliabaise of cock-up which is Afghanistan, long known as "the Graveyard of Empire." A remaining Everest and K2 of foreign policy circles, it must inspire military planners and wonks to sharpen up their models and say, "I shall tread triumphant where all others have failed, I shall gain my rightful place on Meet the Press."
So many others. England, for its part, apparently suffers from some pathologically driven need to occupy Kabul and Kandahar at least once every century, then leave in disgust and frustration, erecting some cryptic statue to their loss. The Dr. Watson of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's imagination was a wounded survivor of the quite factual Battle of Maiwan, having been carried out of the massacre by his orderly. It's all right there in the opening of 'A Study in Scarlet,' and perhaps the British public supported this last occupation on a purely sentimental basis. The bother of conquering and holding the region goes all the way back to Alexander the Great, who was nearly killed in the Swat Valley after taking a dart in the shoulder. He executed trusted Macedonian lieutenants and soldiers when they mutinied following a victory they felt was too precarious and far from home. In terms relative to megalomania, it was a markedly low point in his career.
The stated military logic, tenuous as it may have been, for occupying Afghanistan was to deny the takfiri jihad (al Qaeda) a base of operations. If we don't occupy, the argument went, we allow a vacuum to exist which draws in terrorists, who then have a safe haven in which to train and mount another 9/11-style event. Deriding the presumption and ridiculousness of this reasoning would be satisfying but illusory. It's worth noting that even at the highest levels, the systems which produce good strategic decision-making in this country have failed or have been completely blocked. Allow me to explain why.
By flipping it on its head, the flaw in the military's opening logic above is easily exposed and solved: if you allow Afghanistan to become a vacuum, and terrorists move in and make bases, all you have to do is watch them with your expensive satellites and predator drones, then move your special forces up close enough to observe and confirm bad guy status while coordinating with local security forces, and eliminate the terrorist threats. This solution is so obvious and executable precisely because the stability of Afghanistan has absolutely no correlation with the security of the United States; it doesn't matter if we risk destabilizing it with bombing strikes on varying numbers of its citizens who we believe plan to attack us.
An Observe and Contain mission can be run in Afghanistan and the borderlands of Pakistan so long as security agreements are maintained with its governments. Withdrawing ground troops from the region will strengthen diplomatic goodwill, reduce domestic taxpayer burden, and enhance the security footing of the United States. President Obama is showing multiple signs of questioning America's overall foreign policy course, and is hopefully on the verge of making the choice not to escalate troop levels in Afghanistan, but to draw them down.