Pithlord requested a substantive post about Afghanistan the other day, and I think he’s right to call for one. The main contribution to the debate that I think needs to be made is that beyond concrete matters about weapons, money, etc. the United States badly needs to undertake some gesture of commitment and investment to the mission in Afghanistan. We need our NATO allies to do more in Afghanistan. My sense is that a lot of NATO government officials are sympathetic to that message. But as I saw when I was across the Atlantic, European (and, I believe, Canadian) politicians feel enormous from their publics to do less.
In this context, it’s an incredible problem for politicians who’d like to be helpful to us that they can’t very credibly point to Afghanistan and say “hey! look! this is a huge priority for the United States! it’s really important to our bilateral relationship to show that we’re valuable allies!” After all, not only is Iraq getting the lions share of American troops and money, it’s taking up a wildly disproportionate share of the mindspace. Our commanding general in Iraq is a huge celebrity, relentlessly touted by leading politicians. Nobody can even name his counterpart in Afghanistan. And meanwhile, the president openly brags about how he likes to take the advice of his theater commander over the advice of all his superiors as to how US forces should be deployed.
It all gives the impression of a country that cares a great deal about Iraq and thinks of Afghanistan as a backwater. Well, no European country is going to roll up its sleeves and pitch in in Iraq. And insofar as we don’t seem to care about Afghanistan, it’s difficult for them to care more than us. After all, it was the United States that got attacked from Afghanistan, and it was from Afghanistan that the United States got attacked.
I can’t speak at all to logistics, details, how many brigades would it be useful or feasible to switch from one theater to the next. But in broad political terms, I think it’s crucial that the next president put down some very real markers of commitment, and even important that people running for president now indicate that this will be their policy.