While I am a professional philosopher rather than a social scientist, I believe that the situation in Afghanistan can be assessed from a philosophical perspective.
One of the main questions about Afghanistan is whether we can win there or not. Of course, before it can be decided whether we can win or not, there needs to be a clear definition of what counts as a win and what counts as a loss. Clearly, there can be numerous levels of victory (or loss), but we need to have a clearer picture of our goals and then it will be possible to provide a better assessment of whether they can be realistically achieved using the resources we are willing to spend.
If we set a rather lofty goal, like creating a functional democracy, then victory is all but impossible. We lack the resources and the capacity to create a functional nation from what is currently available. Also, there is the moral question about whether we should be doing that sort of thing or not-after all, it seems unlikely that we have the moral right to impose a country on people. Also, the people of Afghanistan have not been able to achieve this over the centuries, hence it seems unlikely that we can do it in a matter of years or even decades.
If we set a more realistic victory condition like weakening the Taliban and Al Qaeda, then this would seem possible. After all, we did it before and presumably can do it again-unless we get distracted by another war (perhaps Iran this time…). Obviously, we need to take into account the fact that changes took place in Afghanistan while our main attention was on Iraq and it must be determined just how much these changes will impact the cost of this sort of victory.
Weakening these groups will be very much like pest control-we will be committed to maintaining our efforts for the foreseeable future, otherwise they (like roaches) will surge back. We saw this happen when we shifted our efforts to Iraq and we can expect it to happen whenever we look away in the future. As such, we can expect to be paying an ongoing price to maintain this sort of victory. This is, of course, quite doable. After all, we have been maintaining forces around the world and this would be more of the same.
It would, of course, be preferable to be able to completely neutralize the Taliban and Al Qaeda. While this would be extremely challenging and quite costly, it does not seem to be beyond the realm of possibility. Naturally, we would also have to ensure that other groups did not arise to take their place, otherwise we would be just exchanging one problem for another. Having a lasting solution of this sort would require addressing the conditions that give rise to such groups in an effective an enduring manner.
I am not sure that we can do this. After all, we have not been able to neutralize gangs and other criminal organizations in our own country. However, we can probably have a “war on terror” that is as effective as our own “war on crime” and “war on drugs.” That is, we can suppress the problem (at great cost) while never being able to truly achieve an end to the war.
Realistically, I think we can expect to stay in Afghanistan for decades. I suspect that we cannot remake Afghanistan into a self-sustaining state. I also suspect that we cannot fix the underlying conditions that gave rise to the Taliban. So, we have to be ready for a long haul-assuming that it is worth the price. We should, of course, consider whether it is worth the cost to stay there and to assess what would happen if we simply packed up and left (again).
Perez Christina says
T. J. Babson says
If we are going to stay then Obama has to stake his presidency on it, and has to get the rest of his party to go along.
If he and they are not willing to put their jobs on the line, it is not right to ask our soldiers to put their lives on the line.
Michael LaBossiere says
I have this vague worry that what is needed to achieve a useful win in Afhghanistan might be inconsistent with what many Democrats are willing to do. But, perhaps this is not the case.
The counterinsurgency plan will not be that effective. We simply do not have enough troops to pull it off, even if we get McChrystal’s requested 40,000. The central government is weak and corrupt. The people of Afghanistan have never supported any central goverment.
The Taliban is not a global threat. We should continue to ensure that they don’t retake power and that means killing them. It’s that simple.
Pakistan is planning a large offensive against the Talibs on their side of the border. We should support them as much as possible.
Michael LaBossiere says
It would make sense to push them from both sides of the border. If the Pakistanis push and we do not, the Taliban can just retreat back into Afghanistan. But, if the Taliban forces are pushed back against US forces, then it would be possible to do significant damage.
Of course, these sorts of conflicts are not won just by killing the enemy. As with Doritos, they can always make more. What is needed is a way to remove the causal factors that give rise to the Taliban-sealing the leak, rather than just bailing water out of the boat.
This time, Joe Biden’s right.
“Of course, these sorts of conflicts are not won just by killing the enemy. As with Doritos, they can always make more. What is needed is a way to remove the causal factors that give rise to the Taliban-sealing the leak, rather than just bailing water out of the boat.”
That will not happen in our lifetime. And actually, killing the enemy has a terrific track record in counter-terror. There are dozens of historical examples, but the Third Punic War, the Third Servile War (The Spartacus War), the Romans in Gaul and the American Indian Wars all come to mind. And before any liberal weenies jump in here and start protesting about the brutality of the Romans and the Americans in the Indian Wars, let me remind them that all sides were incredibly brutal in these conflicts.
The media has over-sold counter-insurgency; they ignore the fact that General Stanley McChrystal actually ran a very black counter-terror unit in Iraq, a unit responsible for killing thousands of insurgents and capturing Saddam Hussein. To my knowledge, they never handed out a single soccer ball.
Michael LaBossiere says
Obviously, killing is a factor in all such conflicts. My point is that in situations like Afghanistan victory cannot realistically be achieved by this as the only method. Of course, if we did truly commit to a “kill them, kill them all…when they are all dead the war is over” policy, then we could win that way. But the cost would be rather high.
“We’re too powerful to be defeated — but too politically correct to win.”~Ralph Peters