The President gave his speech on Afghanistan, announcing that he was essentially winding down the “surge” that he had authorized a year or so ago. It appears to just about all that the President is splitting the policy difference, throwing a small bone to the anti-war crowd, but leaving enough military flexibility to avoid the charge that he will “lose” Afghanistan. Plenty of debate going on, with the McCain wing charging that the President is not committed to “victory” in Afghanistan. But what constitutes victory there? That seems to be a question that nobody has a cogent answer to.
It always appeared to me that the initial goal was the overthrow of the Taliban government that had allowed its country to be used as a base for terrorist operations against the United States, as well as the eviction of Al-Qaeda from Afghanistan, followed by a degrading of its operational terrorist capacity. Such a goal has been reached, but as appears to be typical we have experienced mission creep, with nation building in Afghanistan now a big part of the program. With the Taliban not willing to give up the fight, with tribal and geographic loyalties preventing consolidation of military gains without the permanent stationing of the American military there, our commitment for “victory” appears to be endless and financially draining. Calls for negotiations between all the parties may sound good, but I happen to agree with those who say that such negotiations would only be a prelude to a final military settlement once we left. From a military standpoint the balance of forces on the ground do not appear to favor our putative allies in Kabul. Such a final military reckoning, in our absence, would likely find the Taliban receiving military help from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, with the incumbents leaning on Iran and India.
At some point the natives must be able to militarily support themselves. A return to power of the Taliban, in even limited form, would not be a good thing. But the key for the U.S. is that no further hostile acts be launched against us from Afghan soil. We have achieved the limited goals that should have been the sole object of our initial mission. It is time to stop the madness and accelerate the timetable for the full withdrawal of U.S. forces.