By Request: Afghanistan

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Strasmangelo Jones asks:

Here's a request. What, exactly, is the US plan for Afghanistan? What would "success" in Afghanistan even look like, and how would America get there?

This is, indeed, the question we need to be asking. The fact that the original mission in Afghanistan, to whip the Taliban and uproot al-Qaeda, didn't quite work and then we went and invaded Iraq and stopped paying attention for several years has left us with a mission in Afghanistan that seems very unclear. When you hear things like our commander in Afghanistan saying we need 400,000 troops you begin to think that the mission he has in mind isn't the appropriate one. Whatever it is you need 400,000 troops to do is something we're going to have to get by without doing, since we're not sending 400,000 troops to Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, it seems to me that the "Anbar Awakening" model in which we took some guys who'd been fighting us, and gave them money to kill al-Qaeda irreconciliables instead, would have a lot of promise in Afghanistan. I think the big problem with the past two years worth of our policy in Iraq hasn't been that it "doesn't work" but that we don't have any reasonable policy objectives and are getting bogged down in a senseless quest for bases, "influence," and a vague sense of victory. Afghanistan seems like a more promising venue for clearer, more limited objectives -- no southern factions playing host to al-Qaeda and the de jure government strong enough to remain the de facto government in the Kabul area.

Stabilizing the whole country would be great, and I'd be happy to send more troops to Afghanistan to do so (especially because I think doing so would bring forth increased involvement from our international partners) since as best I can tell most segments of the Afghan population don't have a real problem with foreign troops being there. But if it's really true that we would need to send 400,000 soldiers over there to accomplish a nationwide stabilization mission then it makes sense to re-redefine our objectives in a more limited way.

But consider that all somewhat provisional, as I'm not really up to speed on the situation and promise to look into it.

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Matthew Yglesias is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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