America can win in Afghanistan because U.S. troops are widely respected and admired there, and the Taliban is widely despised.
There has been much gloom and doom about Afghanistan in recent weeks, and in part for good reason: The fight there will be long, messy and difficult; and it will extend well past July 2011.
Moreover, as I’ve pointed out here at NewsReal Blog, President Obama’s insistence on a timeline for withdrawal makes this fight even more difficult: Because Afghans now have to worry about what will happen to them when the Americans start leaving next summer.
The manifest failures of our diplomatic team, headed up by Ambassador Richard Holbrooke and Special Envoy Karl Eikenberry, likewise are handicapping U.S. efforts in Afghanistan.
That said, there is also great cause for optimism, as Frederick W. Kagn and Kimberly Kagan observe in this week’s Weekly Standard. Indeed, “success in Afghanistan is possible,” they write:
The policy that President Obama announced in December and firmly reiterated last week is sound. So is the strategy that General Stanley McChrystal devised last summer and has been implementing this year.
There have been setbacks and disappointments during this campaign, and adjustments will likely be necessary. These are inescapable in war. Success is not by any means inevitable. Enemies adapt and spoilers spoil. But both panic and despair are premature.
The Brooking Institution’s Michael O’Hanlon agrees:
Several recent critiques paint only part of the picture, and they are often more wrong than right unless they are presented with greater nuance.
“There are indeed weaknesses in U.S. strategy,” O’Hanlon adds,
including problems with the Afghan police and an inadequate plan to fight corruption…But on balance, we have many assets and strengths in Afghanistan — and better-than-even odds of leaving behind a reasonably stable place if we persevere.
That’s exactly right. But the idea that victory in Afghanistan can be achieved quickly and without setbacks is wrong. Afghanistan was never going to be easy. Certainly, it was going to be more difficult than Iraq. But the idea that the United States can’t defeat the Taliban, which is widely despised throughout Afghanistan, is nonsense. Yes, we can. The question is: will the politicians let us?
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