U.S. troops return to Afghanistan's lost province | ReutersU.S. troops returned to the area in Afghanistan they call the "dark side of the moon" this week, a remote Hindu Kush region that controls several access routes to Kabul and where the coalition suffered one of its biggest reverses in the decade-long war...
As many as 2,500 Taliban are thought to be in the province, controlling most districts, and around 300 are foreign, mostly Pakistanis or Chechens, Afghan commanders say.
The Karzai regime's inability to consolidate its jurisdiction over Afghanistan is not entirely surprising given the country's history and institutional framework. That U.S. troops will temporarily relocate to a largely Taliban-controlled region in a bid to thwart a suspected Taliban offensive highlights the fragility of the current government. It also raises real concerns about Afghanistan's fate following NATO's redeployment.
With the politics of the 2012 campaign likely to consume America's attention in coming months, it has become more unlikely that the U.S. will correct its strategically-flawed Karzai/Kabul-centric approach. As a result, the risk that the U.S. will wind up with an inconclusive outcome that amounts to a defeat in Afghanisan much like the Soviets endured some two decades earlier has increased. If such an outcome prevails, the common error will have been a substitution of an idealistic vision for history's reality.
Not unlike the Soviets, the U.S. assumed that Afghanistan could make a revolutionary leap in governance, in this case from Taliban-led feudalism to democracy. Like the Soviets, the U.S. centered its strategy around a central government, rather than the all-important and still influential tribal leaders who have a better chance at making a difference. As had been the case in the Soviet Union, public opinion has now turned against the war. In fact, the May 3-7, 2012 Associated Press-GfK poll found that only 27% of Americans now support the war in Afghanistan and 66% oppose it. Moreover, in terms of national priorities, the May 29-31, 2012 CNN-ORC poll revealed that only 3% of Americans considered Afghanistan the most important issue. The combination of overwhelmingly negative sentiment and ranking as a veritable non-priority open the door for the U.S. to accelerate a disengagement there, even if after the election. Barring the kind of strategic shift that is highly unlikely to occur, it is difficult to argue that there is much marginal benefit from maintaining a significant war footing in Afghanistan and that is even before one considers the fiscal costs involved.
The war will likely be terminated according to the NATO timeline or even earlier. Neither President Obama or, if elected, Governor Romney will materially prolong, much less expand the U.S. role in Afghanistan. When the war is concluded, it will almost certainly be described as a "victory. The reality of an inconclusive outcome, neither victory nor defeat, will be uglier. Following the conclusion of the war, especially if the Karzai regime or successor central government is ultimately swept from power (perhaps by civil war, perhaps by the Taliban, or perhaps by its own ineffectual performance), military and political leaders will attempt to shift the blame to forces and factors beyond their control and some military leaders will likely point fingers at the nation's political leaders and vice versa. In such a scenario, the grim reality will be that a flawed strategy and stubborn unwillingness--by political and military leaders alike--to create a realistic framework based on Afghanistan's history, institutions, and traditions will have played a large, if not, dominant role in the outcome.
Some political and military leaders will likely try to assert that the U.S. simply didn't have enough time, but more than a decade to achieve and consolidate victory is ample time. A better outcome was attainable. It should have been attained.
A searching debate will be necessary and it will likely ensue, even as some political and military leaders find it difficult. At least for a time, the simplistic axiom that democracy can be imposed through regime change will be shattered. That won't be the first time such naive assumptions have fallen by the wayside. Following the conclusion of World War II, there as an almost utopian faith that the UN would bring security and stability and that international law would render the balance of power and spheres of influence obsolete. Nothing like that came to pass. Today, world organization is viewed as one of the greater disappointments relative to the expectations that heralded its creation.