Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Impossible Balancing Act

Remember when everyone wondered, "How can we reconcile Obama's promise to stay until we get the job done with his pledge not to make an open-ended commitment?" Funny, how sometimes the seemingly pesky little questions are actually the important ones.

Colonel Lawrence Sellin (a P.H.D, no less) painted a grim portrait of war's future by explaining Pakistan's reluctance to cooperate. Sellin notes that Pakistan is very much taking into consideration our eventual departure, calculating that it is not worth antagonizing the Afghan Taliban or tribal leaders operating on the border. Unless a group is explicitly targeting the Pakistani government, like the Pakistani Taliban, Islamabad sees no value in creating new enemies that it will have to confront down the road without our troops and money.

Republicans would take the previous point as a mean to bash the president for suggesting a withdrawal there. "Afghanistan: today, tomorrow and forever!" is their battle cry. Incidentally, that is the reason the parallel between Obama and LBJ will not end with him being driven from office as a one-term president because of the war. American support for the war is incredibly strained, but since the Republicans are only offering war, harder and longer, they will not be able to use the issue effectively against Obama. At least Nixon had a "secret plan" to end the war.

In a follow-up article for UPI, Sellin advocates for a bottom up approach to conducting the war that puts allied tribal elders in the lead, with the U.S military serving more of a supporting role. This makes sense: while the Taliban will rally locals against the occupation as long as we are in Afghanistan, their argument will carry less weight if Afghans lead the fight against them. Part of this strategy involves training soldiers locally in their tribal areas, rather than sending them to Kabul. Given the wack-a-mole nature of the insurgency, it would be wise to heed Sellin's advice by strengthening local tribal leaders that we can work with in the long run, who can hopefully be weened off our support in the near-mid future.

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