August 25, 2009

The "Is Counterinsurgency Stifling the Debate?" Debate: Day One

One reader suspects some of this blog's readership is just frustrated with the direction in which our Afghanistan policy is headed:

First, full disclosure: I'm staunchly against escalation in Afghanistan. I'm not convinced we have any meaningful national interest there, and I am exasperated by the administration's inability to articulate concrete goals. I went to Holbrooke's CAP talk this month hoping to hear some persuasive arguments. I didn't hear any.


That said, your commenters are being hyperbolic. The "Cheneyesque" slur is baseless, and I'm reasonably sure you are not wrecking my life.


So why the frustration? I think those of us in the anti-escalation camp feel that official Washington -- the administration, the State Department, think tanks like CNAS and New America and CAP, many journalists -- are only engaging with the "middle" of the Afghanistan debate, the question of how to implement counter-insurgency/state-building strategies. They start from the assumption that we should be there, and they can't realistically define our goals, or how we'll know the benefits outweigh the costs.


Holbrooke's CAP talk, again, is a perfect illustration. I spent 90 minutes listening to him and his advisers. I heard almost no talk about our national interest in Afghanistan -- save for a brief mention of "safe havens" -- and no concrete goals. ("We'll know it when we see it" does not count as a concrete goal....)


Incidentally, this is why I think it's unfair to criticize you personally, because your Afghanistan strategy debate tried to address these exact questions.


I think that's why there is so much frustration. I have bigger questions about the war than how it's being fought -- like why it should be fought. And I don't feel like those questions are often addressed.