I haven't felt the need to weigh into the recent "he said, she said" war of words between President Hamid Karzai and General David Petraeus. But I am amused with Matt Yglesias's comment on the topic.
I don’t really get this. Everyone’s looking for a viable exit strategy from Afghanistan. And what better strategy than a handshake with the President of Afghanistan over a concrete plan for a reduced tempo of operations followed by a steady withdrawal of American soldiers? The premise of a counterinsurgency operation in Afghanistan is that we’re there to help the Afghan government. That strategy can’t work if the Afghan government doesn’t share our vision, and the strategy lacks legitimacy if the Afghan government doesn’t back it. Watch Michael Cohen’s head explode over this if you like.
Now to get the easy target out of the way, no, the important players in this drama are not "looking for a viable exit strategy from Afghanistan." On the one hand, you have Karzai who probably enjoys having the United States pump the equivalent of seven times his nation's GDP into his economy. As long as US forces are there, he's in power and there's security around Kabul. On the other hand, he has to explain to the general public that he's quite upset with the number of Afghan casualties caused by US forces and private military contractors (not to mention those caused by insurgents aiming at US forces).
On the other hand, you have Petraeus and other Very Serious People in the Beltway who believe that, even after 2014, you're going to still need US forces in place to "help" the Afghan police and military operate and sustain their brand-new American security equipment. There are those analysts and military leaders who myopically focus on the idea that they can transform Afghanistan into a secure and safe environment, free of extremist Islamic groups, if just given 10 or 20 more years. Neither of these viewpoints have exit strategies, and the fault ought to be placed on the poor dialogue within the National Security Council (of this and the past administration).
But we tend to see more arguments about the operational and tactical methods of "winning" in Afghanistan than examinations of what our national interest is and how much our country is spending in this adventure. We need to answer the question of what we are trying to do in the first place and whether we're getting there in a reasonable time and level of effort. Do we need a large US force to be there between 2011 and 2014? I submit that planning for $600 billion above what we've already spent, in addition to another 1500-2000 dead Americans and 10,000 wounded, plus thousands more dead Afghanis, is not reasonable or worth the effort.
This isn't an argument for isolationism but rather a request for understanding the limitations of any government seeking to change Afghanistan into a terrorist-free utopia that idealists seem to seek. Al Qaeda is just going to move to another weak state, while training its entry-level applicants against any US forces left in the Middle East. The Taliban don't have any expansionist ideas other than controlling a little turf in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And if Karzai says he doesn't need a heavy US military force conducting seek and destroy missions in his country, maybe we ought to listen to him. It's time to deal with these realities.
UPDATE: I guess everyone's kissed and made up. Back to night raids and clearing out the southern provinces.