Small Wars Journal

The Missing Debate on Afghanistan

The Missing Debate on Afghanistan - Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal opinion.

All in. All out. Double down. Withdraw. The language of the Afghanistan debate is stark, as seem the choices. But at least the debate has begun, forced by the blunt recent comments of Gen. Stanley McChrystal. It is overdue. At the very least, less than a full airing of all the facts, realities, challenges and possibilities in that region shows insufficient respect and gratitude toward those we've put in harm's way. Nobody, really, is certain what to do, or wherein lies wisdom. It isn't a choice between right and wrong or "clearly smart" versus "obviously stupid" so much as a choice between two hells, or more than two.

The hell of withdrawal is what kind of drama would fill the vacuum, who would re-emerge, who would be empowered, what Pakistan would look like with a newly redrawn reality in the neighborhood, what tremors would shake the ground there as the US troops march out. It is the hell of a great nation that had made a commitment in retreat, abandoning not only its investment of blood and treasure but those on the ground, and elsewhere, who had one way or another cast their lot with us. It would involve the hell, too, of a UN commitment, an allied commitment, deflated to the point of collapse.

The hell of staying is equally clear, and vivid: more loss of American and allied troops, more damage to men and resources, an American national debate that would be a continuing wound and possibly a debilitating one, an overstretched military given no relief and in fact stretched thinner, a huge and continuing financial cost in a time when our economy is low. There is no particular guarantee of, or even completely persuasive definition of, success. And Pakistan may blow anyway. The debate is over which hell is less damaging in the long term, which hell is more livable...

More at The Wall Street Journal.


Rigs (not verified)

Sat, 10/10/2009 - 10:51pm

Operational strategy should remain under the purview of the executive branch, but bounded by national laws (by extension, the international laws we subscribe to) and our collective mores. The debate on Afghanistan referenced in this article is a more fundamental question of grand strategy and a re-evaluation of why we are fighting there as the decade-long-conflict mark is rapidly approaching. People are prone to conflating the two as has been discussed at length on this site in the past.

Foreign Policy and National Strategy by committee is a fantastic idea. The more voices the better, I say. When cult of personality drives decision making the results are usually less optimal than if a wider range of opinions are examined. Clinton Doctrine switching to Bush Doctrine switching to Obama doctrine is lunatic foreign policy - perhaps if honest and more transparent assessments were made of what foreign policy is best for America we would have a more consistent foreign policy, and in turn reputation as a nation.

It also requires a very, very narrow reading (and selectively disregarding passages) of the Constitution to say that the Executive has the exclusive purview over strategy. Treaties, ambassadorships, other appointments, and the use of military force all must be run by Congress. Further, on paper it's the job of the Congress to raise and support the Army (and Navy) as well as establish rules for their regulation. It seems like the Congress has a substantial impact on strategy, what with controlling the money, regulations, and the right to authorize the use of military force.

Wargames Mark

Sat, 10/10/2009 - 11:53am

Rigs, I disagree with your view of the "very fiber of our national ideals".

My position is that strategy is the domain of the executive branch and this is expressed in the constitution. Congress may choose to fund the strategy or not, but it is not their role to debate its formulation.

Avoid war-by-committee.

Rigs (not verified)

Sat, 10/10/2009 - 11:24am

Mark, I rarely let discourse dissolve into ad hominem attacks, but your statist viewpoint on the conduct of war is counter to the very fiber of our national ideals and is a very dangerous view to the health of a free nation.

Perhaps the American people are weary because they've been systematically mislead about the true nature of these wars by the previous administration. In our nation a war should be able to undergo public scrutiny and come out as a benefit in the net strategic calculus. We should only be conducting war if it's absolutely necessary, and an administration needs to be able to justify that to the American people (and by justify I do not mean 'sell' it to the American people long enough to have the mega-FOBs up before buyer's remorse sets in).

Do you know how long it takes for all the relevant parties (I am loath to say stakeholders) to weigh in on a policy decision as important as the one Obama is going to make about Afghanistan? His full time job is not micromanaging CENTCOM(I'm told there's this economic crisis thing going on, and it is more important to Americans than Afghanistan). Obama is not shooting from the hip here, he is carefully considering the policy options and will do what he sees as best for the country. And by carefully weighing all the facts he is much more likely to roll out an effective policy than if he was simply making decisions on gut feelings, by conventional party lines, or (god forbid) divine mandate.

Wargames Mark (not verified)

Fri, 10/09/2009 - 8:54pm

I disagree that the debate on Afghanistan needs to be a public event. I do not like war by committee. I think the public finds Afghanistan wearisome, that the public is ignorant of the issues involved, that the public is too easily swayed by persons and groups with interests counter to those of the United States as a whole.

I did not vote for this president. I do not often agree with this president. I have little confidence in this president. However, he <i>is</i> the president and he needs to make a decision. Congress, at this point, ought to support whatever decision is made.

As many readers of this forum know far better than I, leadership requires one to make unpopular decisions. We already had the debate when we elected Obama as president. We get our next opportunity in 2012. In the meantime, he is the commander in chief and he needs to do some commanding.

The only thing worse than a poor plan is a poor plan poorly executed, and the only thing worse than a bad decision is no decision at all. - My opinion, at least.