Here’s What Winning in Afghanistan Looks Like


2010 is the year Lebron James “made contract” (with the Miami Heat) and also the year the U.S. military “made sustained contact” with the enemy in Afghanistan. Yes, we can!

Some prominent conservatives — including, for instance, the esteemed Ann Coulter — doubt that America can win in Afghanistan. “What does winning mean?” they often ask, as if the concept is difficult to fathom.

Only it’s not. Winning in Afghanistan actually has a very precise (albeit nontraditional) meaning. It means establishing a functioning and non-threatening Afghan government — or governing bodies — that can do the bare minimum: quell insurgents and insurrections within its borders, deter and repel invaders, provide basic services, police the streets, and patrol the neighborhoods. That’s it. The model is Tajikistan, not Disneyland.

Thus the United States absolutely and necessarily is involved in so-called nation-building in Afghanistan.

But Ralph Peters and other critics to the contrary notwithstanding, we are not trying to build something that never existed in Afghanistan. To the contrary: we are trying to restore an Afghanistan that once coexisted rather peaceably with its neighbors and the world.

Indeed, as the American Enterprise Institute’s Frederick W. Kagan has observed:

Afghanistan has a longer tradition of such political organization than Iraq has. It has been independent since 1747, and had a functioning constitutional and parliamentary monarchy in the middle of the 20th century. Centrifugal forces in Afghanistan have always been powerful, making the prospects for a strong centralized government in Kabul poor, but the country is neither ungovernable nor artificial. It cannot be stable at this point in history, however, without a representative system. Its multiethnic makeup and decades of internal war mean that any attempt to impose a strongman or to break the country up into effectively independent, warlord-ruled fiefdoms will lead to perpetual violence.

Thus America’s counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan.

Of course, counterinsurgencies are nothing new. They’ve been waged before, and to good effect, in Malaya, Colombia, the Philippines, and, of course, Iraq, among other places. But counterinsurgencies are necessarily long, painstaking affairs that cannot be rushed.

That’s why the president’s timeline for withdrawal is so troubling and so counterproductive. Fortunately, however, the national security team — led by General Petraeus and including Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — have been backtracking and parsing Obama’s deleterious words.

“It’s important to note that July 2011 will be the beginning of a process … not the date by which we head for the exits and turn off the lights,” Petraeus told Congress.

If that’s true, and if the president can keep his nerve and remain committed to a long-term strategy for victory in Afghanistan, then yes, we can – win in Afghanistan that is.  Because we do, in fact, know what winning looks like.

You can follow John Guardiano on Twitter: @JohnRGuardiano

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