October 2, 2008


McCain Is Wrong On Afghanistan (Barnett R. Rubin, 10.02.08, Forbes)

Though McCain has no plausible plan to increase troops in Afghanistan, he agrees that more should be sent. And what should they do there? According to McCain, duplicate the "same strategy" that "succeeded" in Iraq. That strategy consisted of increasing troops in Baghdad to control sectarian violence; moving those troops into neighborhoods to provide security to the population; and paying the Sunni tribes of Anbar (the Awakening) that were willing to shift from fighting the U.S. occupation to accepting its aid to strengthen themselves against the foreign extremists of al-Qaida and the Shi'a-dominated government in Baghdad. Not a single element of this strategy is applicable to Afghanistan except the crude idea of "more troops." There is now no open sectarian or ethnic conflict in Kabul. And whom would the U.S. forces pay to fight the Taliban? The Taliban's own tribes?

The Iraqi insurgency was based in Iraq--but the Afghan insurgency is based in Pakistan. Iraq provides no lessons for dealing with the cross-border insurgency. But McCain has no policy toward Pakistan other than to continue the Bush administration's failed cooperation with the Pakistani military; he even maligned the elected government overthrown by Gen. Pervez Musharraf in 1999 as a "failed state." I was in Pakistan a week before that coup, and it was not a failed state. It was a state whose military was planning to unseat its elected government because that government might cooperate with the U.S. against the Taliban and al-Qaida.

Obama, however, not only promised more troops and said where he would get them, but outlined the other components of Afghanistan and Pakistan policy necessary for success: help the Afghan government provide more for its people; implement an effective strategy to curb the illegal drug industry; build a partnership with Pakistan based on more than a deal with a military dictator; and open diplomatic dialogue with Iran, Afghanistan's western neighbor, with whom the U.S. cooperated closely in the 2001 campaign against al-Qaida and the Pakistan-supported Taliban government.

There's one key insight here, but Mr. Rubin is just as afraid to follow it as are the two candidates: the Sunni Awakening was a function of their fear of Sunni extremists and the Shi'a militias and government. Note that the Rubin-Obama plan isn't going to scare anyone straight.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 2, 2008 8:01 AM
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