Foreign Policy Initiative Panel Unanimous In Favor Of More Everything In Afghanistan

The opening panel in the Foreign Policy Initiative’s forum “Advancing and Defending Democracy” focused on Afghanistan, and featured Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL), Brig. Gen. Mark T. Kimmitt, USA (Ret.), and Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. (ABC News’ Jonathan Karl filled in as moderator for Bill Kristol, who was absent due to the passing of his father, Irving Kristol.)

There was little news made at the panel — no one will be surprised that all the participants were in favor of more troops for Afghanistan, more commitment, and pushing on until “victory.” Amb. Khalilzad, who was born in Afghanistan, said that he did not think that talking to the Taliban was a realistic near-term proposition, and that the only way forward was to pursue a similar surge/counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy in Afghanistan as was done in Iraq beginning in 2007. Asked about the danger of assuming similarities between Iraq and Afghanistan in terms of implementing a new COIN strategy, Khalilzad said “there will be similarities, but there will also be differences.” But COIN is a “necessary element” of the strategy in Afghanistan, Khalilzad said, as it was the only way to protect and gain the confidence of the Afghan people. If “you have the confidence of the people, you have a better prospect for success.”


Rep. Kirk said that the “primary objective [in Afghanistan] is to protect the United States” from another 9/11. Reminding the audience that Illinois is home to the tallest building in North America, he described his job as “mak[ing] sure that everyone in the Sears Tower can come home tonight.”

Acknowledging the importance of U.S. public opinion for any extended U.S. military intervention, Gen. Kimmitt said that “the support of the American people is the center of gravity for the next ten years” — a interesting indication of how long he believes the U.S. will be involved in Afghanistan. Asked about possible frustration on the part of the military with the amount of time being taken by the Obama administration to decide on a new strategy, Gen. Kimmitt defended the pace of the administration’s decision-making process. Given the extent of the commitment hoped for, this “is going need some deliberation,” Kimmitt said, “we don’t want to see a rush to failure.”