A group of American foreign policy scholars and activists has written a letter to President Barack Obama, urging him to re-focus the U.S. mission in Afghanistan “more clearly on al Qaeda instead of expanding the mission into an ambitious experiment in state building”:
[...] We are concerned that the war in Afghanistan is growing increasingly detached from considerations of length, cost, and consequences. Its rationale is becoming murkier and both domestic and international support for it is waning.
My concern, frankly, is that in this distinguished and highly learned group of 38 fine people, there isn’t one — not one — expert on Afghanistan — not the country nor the area nor even the general neighbourhood. Those who actually know Afghanistan are just as conspicuously missing here as they were from McChrystal’s posse of mostly pro-escalation advisors.
I’m not saying area expertise should be a requirement for opposing the war. But there must be something wrong with the debate when people who have spent decades studying the topic remain absent from the talk shows and op-ed pages.
Then again, perhaps it’s simply because they’d rather focus on their research than engage in a shouting match with people who will call them rats. As an example of the civilised and thoughtful manner in which the letter’s signatories treat anyone suspected of the thought-crime of non-opposition to the war, here’s Bernard Finel:
Well, the problem is… the worse the news, the more imperative the pro-war, pro-COIN side believes its position to be. Only good news can convince them — so they’ll be arguing for war until we ‘win.’ Except that public support will collapse before then, and since a lot of them are just riding on the conventional wisdom, a lot of them will peel off like rats jumping from a sinking ship as the argument falls apart. A few true believers will ride it all the way down, and will indeed spend years explaining how if we have just following their advice, we would have won.
In short, convincing them is not about facts and arguments. They are stuck in an intellectually closed loop and they will only ever escape from it when their instinct for professional self-preservation kicks in.