George Will’s Lack of Will is a Problem in Afghanistan


George Will says, “No, America can’t win in Afghanistan.” The U.S. military says, “Yes, we can.” But only President Obama can say, “Yes, we will.” And thus far, the president has not said that.

George Will has a column today in which he again casts grave doubt and aspersions upon the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan.

Those Americans who say that Afghanistan is a test of America’s “staying power” are saying that we must stay there because we are there. This is steady work, but it treats perseverance as a virtue regardless of context or consequences and makes futility into a reason for persevering.

Obama has counted on his 2011 run-up to reelection being smoothed by three developments in 2010 — the health-care legislation becoming popular after enactment, job creation accelerating briskly and Afghanistan conditions improving significantly.

The first two are not happening. He can decisively influence only the third, and only by adhering to his timetable for disentangling U.S. forces from this misadventure.

Will, unfortunately, is wrong. He has it exactly backwards:

No one wants to stay in Afghanistan “because we are there.” This is a ludicrous argument. Afghanistan, after all, is not like Italy, France or Germany: It is a barren and inhospitable place with not much to recommend it.

No, contra Will, the reason America must persevere in Afghanistan is to protect American national security interests. It is to prevent the Taliban and Al-Quaeda from re-conquering Afghanistan and destabilizing nuclear-armed Pakistan.

And Obama’s insistence on a timeline for withdrawal is precisely what is stymieing the American war effort. Afghan President Hamid Karzai, after all, has no reason to doubt Obama’s commitment to high-tailing it out of Afghanistan in 2011. Nor do ordinary Afghans.

Thus, they are hedging their bets and working both sides of the street, so to speak, because they cannot be sure of America’s resolve and commitment. The way to solve this problem is for Obama to abandon his timeline for withdrawal and to commit unequivocally to victory.