August 31, 2009

Afghanistan: Easy to Lose, Hard to Win

General McChrystal's assessment of the war in Afghanistan was forwarded to the Secretary of Defense and the NATO Secretary-General today, so it's as good a time as any to flag two must-reads from yesterday and today. In the first, Tony Cordesman writes just how easy it would be to lose this war -- though he admits there is also no clear path to victory. Not surprisingly, given that Tony and I traveled through Afghanistan together for a month, I am sympathetic to his analysis. In the second, Dexter Filkins gives us an idea of how hard it will be to win the war. I have never met Filkins, but I think he gets it right too.

The next several days could prove decisive, and in more ways than one. The votes are expected to be counted by the second week of September. By then, officials on the Election Complaints Commission should have a better sense of how substantive the election fraud was. And this week, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top American commander in the country, is expected to deliver his assessment of the Afghan situation to President Obama. That report could lay the groundwork for a request for more troops.


The situation on the battlefield is difficult on its own. But it is, of course, inevitably bound up with the political stalemate in Kabul. As American commanders and diplomats have said repeatedly here, no amount of troops can substitute for a lack of political consensus among ordinary Afghans.


In this way, the politics in Kabul and the fighting in the south feed off of each other, for better or worse.


“If people decide that we could not give them anything through the democratic process, then the insurgency will be strengthened,” Mr. Abdullah said. “And then the United States will need to bring more troops and more resources here — and for what?”


That’s a question that President Obama, General McChrystal and, ultimately, the American people, will have to decide.