Yet, in Afghanistan, we’ve put the bulk of our efforts into turning a vast flophouse into the Four Seasons — instead of focusing ruthlessly on our terrorist enemies. It’s politically correct madness.
What we really need is just a compact, lethal force of special operators, intelligence resources and air assets, along with sufficient conventional forces for protection and punitive raids. More troops just mean more blood and frustration.
Peters has been remarkably forthright with his lack of concern for humanitarian considerations in the past, so his enthusiasm for withdrawal should give my liberal and non-interventionist friends pause. It comes as no surprise that a strategy consisting of indiscriminate air strikes and brutal special forces incursions would appeal to Peters; after all, he simply does not care about civilian casualties. This, of course, is the reality that more sophisticated advocates of withdrawal – Andrew Bacevich, George Will – continue to elide. Not only does withdrawal risk turning over an entire country to the Taliban – a group not known for its humanitarian sensibilities – the only viable strategic alternative risks more indiscriminate killing. We know that air strikes in Pakistan have incurred massive collateral damage over the past several years. We know that an over-reliance on air power leads to civilian casualties. A few years ago, liberal advocates of withdrawal were sounding the alarm over our indiscriminate use of air power in Afghanistan. Now they’re advocating a strategy that virtually guarantees an upswing in long-distance bombing.
Granted, some people may argue that we should wash our hands of the whole mess, limit our involvement to logistical and intelligence support for the Afghan government, and resist the urge to lob more ordinance into Central Asia. Given the Taliban’s resurgence, I still don’t think this is an ideal strategy, but it at least avoids the pitfalls of the Ralph Peters approach. The problem with this view is that it’s a political impossibility: can you imagine President Obama, already pilloried for his supposed weakness on national security, announcing a decision to not only withdraw from Afghanistan, but to indefinitely suspend (or radically limit) air strikes? If anything, the political logic of withdrawal demands more bombing to bolster the president’s national security credibility.
Much to my chagrin, The Weekly Standard has the most sensible assessment of this strategy’s probable outcome:
Now consider the alternative. It is 2014, and in places like Helmand province most people have not seen a Coalition serviceman in years. When they do come, they come at night, break down someone’s door and take away someone’s father or brother, who is usually never seen again. This is, however, a much less common occurrence than the sudden descent of incredible destruction from the sky. Again, this usually happens at night, and in the morning the news spreads of how many women and children were killed, how there were no militants in the area, et cetera. The national government fell in 2013, and what was left of the Afghan army retreated to the north, where it achieved some level of dominance and where the situation has come to resemble the pre-9/11 struggle between the Northern Alliance and the Pashto-dominated Taliban.
I am emphatically in favor of rethinking the scope of our political and military ambitions in Afghanistan. Aside from guaranteeing security and a certain level of basic administrative competence, I think we should leave the governing of Afghanistan to the Afghans. Withdrawal, however, strikes me as both morally callous and strategically unsound.