Plan B in Afghanistan

Anders Fogh Rasmussen

Anders Fogh Rasmussen

Via Spencer Ackerman, I see that our favorite Danish hawk, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, has a Washington Post op-ed talking about the extra contribution in Afghanistan that non-U.S. NATO members are going to make and aligning his talking points about strategy with the Obama administration’s. One consequence of that is that his discussion features the same potentially fatal ambiguities as Obama’s.

The issue is that on the one hand he says that “our strategy is clear: to transfer responsibility for running their country to the Afghans, as soon as possible.” But on the other hand he recognizes that success is not wholly in the hands of Denmark or the United States, it crucially relies on Afghan efforts. Hence, “[t]here will be clear commitments, and I expect clear action, by the Afghan government to earn the support of its people.”

Ideally, NATO doesn’t just expect clear action but clear action actually happens. But what if it doesn’t happen? Does that make transfer of responsibility to Afghans happen faster or does it make it happen slower? One construction of the situation is that we’re trying to do what we can to help the Afghan government, but if they prove themselves incorrigible we say “allright, if you don’t want to do it our way you’re on your own—it’s your responsibility.” But another construction of the situation is that the West has really vital interests in Afghanistan that require us to keep large-scale military forces in the country unless a government we deem congenial emerges and controls the country. In that case if the Karzai government proves itself incorrigible we say “allright, if you guys can’t do it our way we’re going to do it ourselves—perpetual occupation.” These are pretty different policies.