The once-gentlemanly debate over how to avert a debacle in Afghanistan has become such a roiling ocean of half-assed ideas that, quite frankly, I’m starting to feel a little uncomfortable. Either this is just part of normal, healthy discourse, out of which will emerge a consensus, or we don’t know what the hell we’re talking about. You decide:
- Escalate! “It may well be that the current proposals for 30,000 more U.S. troops are the bare minimum necessary,” Anthony Cordesman of the CSIS tells the House Armed Services Committee. His Council on Foreign Relations colleague Stephen Biddle goes even further, saying that Afghanistan might need “a combined Afghan and Western force of 300,000 troops.” To a huge collective yawn, Frederick Kagan agrees.
- Draw down! The only way forward is to lower the level of conflict by starting a gradual withdrawal and hunkering down in selected “strategic zones”, suggests French scholar Gilles Dorronsoro in a Carnegie policy brief. Somewhere, Rory Stewart is smiling.
- Protect the cities! Even a greatly bolstered ISAF will not be able to secure most of Afghanistan, so it should establish Secure Development Areas, which would become models of “developmental progress for other troubled parts of the country”, recommends the International Council on Security and Development.
- Protect the provinces! “The sky may be falling, but it is falling first in the provinces,” writes former Abu Muqawama blogger Kip. “The lesson of our campaigns in the East and South is that only platoon and smaller elements are likely to find, fix, and destroy the enemy while simultaneously protecting the populace and allowing the government to operate.”
- Predators rock! American missile-armed drones have dealt devastating blows to al-Qaeda’s leadership in Pakistan, Newsweek reports. According to Pakistan’s , 11 of the top 20 “high-value targets” along the Afghan border have been eliminated.
- Predators rock — Pakistan! “The current approach is having a severely de-stabilizing effect on Pakistan, and risks spreading the conflict further”, says counterinsurgency guru Dave Kilcullen, “or even prompting the collapse of the Pakistani state, a scenario that would dwarf any of the problems we have yet faced in Iraq or Afghanistan.”
- Forget Valhalla! The minimum goal should be to make sure Afghanistan will not become a safe haven for al-Qaeda, Defense Secretary Robert Gates says. “If we set as the goal [creating] a Central Asian Valhalla, we will lose.”
- Valhalla is good! There is no alternative to democracy in Afghanistan, says Condi Rice’s former speechwriter Christian Brose. “It’s hard to imagine the political order we need in Afghanistan and call it anything other than democratic.”
Let me add one more: Stop talking about “replacing” Karzai. For all his faults, he’s the elected head of a sovereign state. You don’t “run out of patience” with a president; you don’t “give up on him”; and you sure as hell don’t “get rid of him”. That’s language you use with children and rogue dictators — not with the leader of a country you’ve sworn to turn into a working democracy.