Bernard Finel lays out an alternative strategy for Afghanistan:
- A “relatively rapid” withdrawal of combat forces from Afghanistan.
- Development aid and military assistance to the Afghan government.
- Should the Taliban regain power, “limited but consistent” diplomatic engagement and “credible communication” of “our commitment to again remove them from power if they in any way tolerate the establishment of anti-American terrorist networks on their soil.”
- Recommitment to do “everything in our power to resolve tensions between India and Pakistan.”
- Ensuring the safety and well-being of Afghans who have supported the U.S. since 2001.
- Continuing clarification of the international legal obligations of states regarding terrorist groups operating from their soil.
I have a number of problems with this.
The first one is fundamental. It isn’t a strategy. Whereas the U.S. and its partners in Afghanistan have tended to call any statement of desired outcomes a “strategy”, Finel’s list is all means and no end. What is the preferred end state here? If it is a viable, non-Taliban Afghan state, surely we agree that the strategy for getting there ought to be different from one for dealing with the Taliban? You don’t design a working strategy by caveating it with “in case we fail”. You choose an aim and plot a course. At least that’s what I was taught.
My second objection should be obvious to anyone who has read my previous posts on Afghan strategy. I simply don’t think this would work. And I think, with all due respect, that this line of reasoning is intellectually a little dishonest — it assumes the best when suggesting a withdrawal but the worst when discussing escalation.
In any case, it all sounds so, I dunno… 90s: political and material support to local power players, assistance and aid through the UN and NGOs, diplomatic “engagement” of good guys and bad, trying to keep the Indo-Pak rivalry at bay by long-distance mediation… I think it’s fair to say it didn’t work. And I think at this point in time, with all the historical evidence to the contrary, it’s wishful thinking to assume that without our military presence, a foreign-supported government in Kabul could withstand the Taliban assault — and that, when the Taliban did seize power, we could persuade them to play nice with the other kids just by threatening to slap them on the wrist with a wet tram ticket.