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by Major Jeremy Kotkin
Is the war in Afghanistan in the interests of the United States and its allies? If so, at what point do the resources we are expending become too high a cost to bear? What are the strategic limitations of U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine and operations? And if the war is not in the interests of the United States and its allies, what are U.S. and allied interests in South and Central Asia -- and how do you propose to secure them?
Beyond the hyperbole that Afghanistan is a graveyard of empires, current misconceptions and conventional 'wisdom' could certainly lead the United States to a similar fate as our Victorian British or Soviet predecessors. Aside from 1842 or 1979 allegories, neither US policy nor grand strategy in 2009 can justify long-term military (General Purpose Force) presence in Afghanistan. Plainly put, creating, defending, and institutionalizing top-to-bottom cultural, governance, or humanitarian reforms in Afghanistan are not vital national interests to the United States. With those ends outside the precepts of stated US policy, there is no justification for any of the ways and means of armed nation-building, security or stability operations, or anti-drug operations conducted by the US military in Afghanistan.
The only hypothesis that can begin to explain the continued military presence in Afghanistan is the theory that defense of the homeland begins at the Hindu Kush; we fight them there so we don't have to fight them here. The immediate corollary being to prevent another 'strategic shock' like the events of 9/11, we must secure and stabilize the ungoverned, radical breeding ground from which they were hatched and could once again return to set up shop anew. There are multiple flaws in this argument which, taken at face value, yields a slippery slope of never-ending military engagements for anyplace we find an 'ungoverned space' or anywhere we find extremist elements which violently disagree with US policy or presence. Furthermore, this "strategy" to use the term loosely, will forever keep us on the strategic defensive, letting the 'enemy' call the shots while not enabling us to see beyond the tactical, threat-focused lens of the Cold War's dead-and-buried paradigm.