[Yglesias] concludes that American policy toward Afghanistan should “restrain our goals, shy away from efforts to conquer hostile territory, and simply try to provide some help to friendly Afghans while scaling our commitment of resources down to a more sustainable level.” Aiming for “a more sustainable” American presence doesn’t sound like a policy oriented toward an actual withdrawal; rather, it sounds like a recipe for what Rory Stewart, in an essay admirable for its honesty about the scope of the commitment he has in mind, suggested would be 20 years or more of muddling through in Afghanistan.
This possible future seems at once unacceptable and all-too-plausible. And it’s precisely because I don’t think we can afford to spend upwards of two decades heavily invested in the Hindu Kush that I’m unwilling to give up on the hope of a more decisive outcome not a final victory, which I agree is a chimera, but a shift in the balance of power in Afghanistan that makes it easier for leading U.S. policymakers to embrace a real withdrawal.
Yeah but how credible is that? Somehow the US has to convince the Taliban that it cannot outlast us - by ramping up forces now with the obvious, if ambiguous, exit ramp in the summer of next year - while holding hearings in which the debate about how long to stay is completely transparent. What Ross is proposing sounds awesome in theory - if we prepare for a permanent occupation, we will get a more temporary one. In practice, in a ten-year war for a negotiated settlement with the people who allowed al Qaeda to attack us a decade ago, with a bankrupt and teetering Treasury, the US has no chance of meeting the determination of the Taliban to control what is their country according to their profound and passionate religious beliefs.
It's over, Ross. All over, but the coming decade of muddling through to more stalemate. And this month saw more NATO casualties than at any time since the beginning.