The Unanswered Questions

Michael Crowley examines the many lacunae in the Obama Af-Pak plan. Among them:

Obama promised to accelerate training to create an Afghan army of 134,000 and a police force of 82,000 by 2011. But, he added, "[I]ncreases in Afghan forces may very well be needed as our plans to turn over security responsibility to the Afghans go forward." In fact, there's little doubt that a country of 32 million people will require much more. Just ask Holbrooke, Obama's State Deparment point man for the region. Speaking in Brussels last week about the target police force size, which had previously been reported, Holbrooke said that "[e]veryone we talked to without exception -- Afghans, insurgency experts, the government, American military -- agreed that was not sufficient." So, what number would be sufficient? And how close to that number will Obama feel obligated to get before he's ready to exit? That remains unclear.

The more I read the more depressed I get. I simply do not believe that we will be able to rid the region of Islamist terrorists by military force, diplomatic genius or civilian outreach. And I suspect that our very intervention has spawned more of these terrorists than might have existed otherwise. The only reason we are there is because Osama bin Laden used the place as a base for the 19 unarmed men who perpetrated 9/11. The question we have to ask is: How is our current policy going to prevent another 19 unarmed men from wreaking havoc in the same way?

I don't see it. And what are the unintended consequences of extending this war into Pakistan, and adding more and more resources to Afghanistan? God knows.

I just try to imagine what the founders would say. With this level of debt, with another country, Iraq, still jammed with US troops, and still deeply unstable, with a global recession threatening to gut our capacity to finance even basic domestic needs, we are about to tackle a region of this complexity and danger. At some level, it is unhinged. It presupposes American responsibility for things we cannot understand, cannot control and cannot defeat. Its premise is imperial responsibility, not a reasonable assessment of national security. Does that make me sound like an isolationist? If isolationism means not trying to remake Afghanistan and Pakistan, then absolutely.