Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Obama and the Morning After

President Obama's speech on Afghanistan left me hoping that he succeeds but deeply skeptical about the prospects of his escalation. The left and right are already picking it apart for obvious reasons, and if it fails he may well stand alone. The biggest fallacy behind it, I fear, is the belief that a surge in Afghanistan will have the same useful impact as the surge in Iraq. But any analogies between the two countries are badly flawed.

As Juan Cole points out, Afghanistan and Iraq are very different societies. And the factors that aided the success of the Iraq surge--some of them ugly forms of ethnic cleansing--won't necessarily apply in Afghanistan.

No two wars are alike, and it is a great mistake to assume that what works in one will work in another. In countries as different as Iraq and Afghanistan, the complexities and dangers of each nation make for vastly different military situations.

President Obama has devised a strategy that recognizes conservative desires for a military solution and liberal desires to get out. Both sides can find much to criticize in it.

My fear is that there is no war that the US and its allies can "win" in Afghanistan the way you win a conventional war. That will make for a very messy ending to this conflict. While I hope that President Obama's policies hasten the end of this fight in some form, I can only contemplate them with a deep sense of skepticism.


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