First Things First, Re: How We Can Win in Afghanistan, Commentary Magazine Website, October 14, 2009

The basic problem in this article is the same as the basic problem we face in Afghanistan. The article advises us that counterinsurgency will enable us to win there and counterterrorism will lead to our defeat but nowhere does it tell us what winning actually means. The closest we get is a brief statement about NATO’s exit strategy-”creating local forces strong enough to police their own territory with minimal outside assistance.” Is this what winning means and is this definition acceptable to the United States, which is after all providing the bulk of the soldiers, weaponry and materiel in the war effort.

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Put another way, why are we in Afghanistan in the first place? Are we there for humanitarian reasons? For strategic reasons? Geopolitical reasons? Are we there because our presence in the country reduces the possibility of terrorist attacks on our homeland? Any or all of the above? None of the above? I don’t know-do you?

Trying to decide on tactics before answering these fundamental questions is putting the cart before the horse. Surely we have to decide what our goals are and then decide how to achieve them. A commitment to counterinsurgency, counterterrorism or anything else is premature until we are clear about what we wish to attain in Afghanistan. Then and only then can we decide on the best way to go about things. Counterinsurgency may indeed be more appropriate than counterterrorism but we can’t come to that conclusion until we determine what we’re really there for.

Tell me why we’re in Afghanistan, tell me what winning means, tell me what the human and financial costs to meet the desired ends are and I’ll tell you whether I think counterinsurgency is a better method than counterterrorism under the circumstances.  In the meantime however don’t try and sell me on it’s efficacy because I can’t possibly make an informed decision until I have the answers.

Nor of course can anyone else.

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