Last week, I predicted, in typically flippant fashion, that as the U.S. presidential election draws closer, attention will shift from Iraq to Afghanistan, but that inevitably spin and false narratives will take over, news fatigue will set in, and this war, too, will fall off the radar.
I still think there’s no reason to believe this won’t happen.
But here’s the thing:
Of the two wars fought after 9/11, Afghanistan remains the good one. The country has been screwed over by the international community in more ways than one can count, and the U.S. and NATO have made a mess of the situation on so many levels an untrained mind can barely grasp the enormity of it all. Yet, for all the bloodletting and stupidity and incomprehensible short-sightedness of the arrogant outsiders who embarked on this project and then lost interest, Afghanistan is the war we all thought the United States had every reason to fight and the rest of us to support.
And it can still be fought right. The next U.S. president will not have an easy time shifting the superpower’s resources from the Iraq sideshow to the other, necessary war; in fact, if he is Republican, he may not even try. But if he puts his mind to it, he has every chance of succeeding. The reason is simple. Unlike Iraq, Afghanistan is not considered America’s folly. After seven years of NATO infighting, mismanagement and indecision, many ISAF countries have lost their will to go on; but that doesn’t mean the will can’t be rekindled. Even secluded Scandinavian democracies like Sweden and Finland regard Afghanistan as an issue of national security. That the governments have failed to convey the vital importance of the international effort to their electorates is nothing short of shameful. But it doesn’t mean an intelligent and determined American president wouldn’t be able to rally even these slobs.
The president will have another thing going for him. Wars are always fought by frazzled men, but the best cure for fatigue and depression is a sense of meaning and direction. Unlike Iraq, the Afghan War, messy and frustrating as it may be, clearly needs to be won, even if victory is unlikely to resemble anything most of us have imagined. If the guys killing and dying in Khost and Kandahar suffer from low morale, it’s not because they don’t see the point of the war; it’s because they feel no one else does.