12 April 2010

Negotiating the rocky future of Afghanistan

“Some day the war in Afghanistan will end. If it's like most civil wars, it will end in negotiations—in this case, negotiations with the Taliban. And that's if we're lucky; the leading alternative to a negotiated settlement is a Taliban victory,” writes Doyle McManus from Kabul.

I would like to eavesdrop on the debate among the Taliban leadership circle, even if it is limited to the mind of Mullah Omar, the self-styled Commander of the Faithful. Because I am confident that one view fighting for primacy is what we can call the patience argument, which says that the U.S. will for a misdirected military campaign that has failed to achieve its objectives after more than eight years and is making new enemies daily will end soon, perhaps within a year.

The patience argument will point out that the U.S. will weary of this fight and will leave Afghanistan like it has before: after the Mujahidin drove out the Soviets in 1989 in what was a wholesale U.S. departure and its "partial departure" in 2003 after the U.S. quick-strike invasion of Iraq turned into a bloody occupation. The patience argument might say there is no reason to negotiate now and settle for half a loaf of bread if we can endure a little longer with the confidence for a military victory and the whole loaf.

The costs of the patience approach will have to be discussed too because continued war will mean more casualties for Taliban forces, western military personnel, and civilians, mostly Afghans, including women and children, but probably a significant number of internationals too.

There are no shortage of reasons for the U.S. to get out Afghanistan pronto, the most obvious being dwindling support from the U.S. public and other NATO members. An even more compelling reason is that endless war is sucking the blood from the national economy and creating more global enemies at the same moment that the fundamental articles of U.S. free-market faith are in ruins and America is sliding irreversibly away from its short-lived “unipolar moment” of global dominance.

However, that won’t be the stated reason. My bet is that Pres. Obama will take his cue from Pres. Richard Nixon, who essentially said in 1975, “Hey, we won guys! Let’s go home!” after north and south Vietnam were finally unified and the last U.S. forces were driven from the country. And let’s face it, Obama is a much smoother talker than Dick Nixon. If George Bush the military deserter can convince the American public that he is patriot, then I am betting Obama can withdraw all U.S. combat forces and claim the war is over, regardless of what happens to Afghanistan after that.

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