If there was any doubt that George Will--a twice-weekly print columnist in an era of 2-hour debates--could shake up the blogosphere, this morning's mortar-shell of a column should set it to rest. (Read the Wire's early coverage of conservative counterattack here.) Nearly every major political outlet felt compelled to respond to his thesis that American efforts at nation-building in Afghanistan are doomed to fail.
How has he changed the debate? Will hardened battle lines on the right, rousing neo-conservatives to assert the case for doubling down on counter-insurgency, citing the success of the Iraq surge. On the left, Will has inspired--or shamed--some critics into elevating their calls for withdrawal. But the greatest number of pundits fall short of either denouncing or endorsing Will, instead taking this as an occasion to weigh the options, demanding a reassessment of America's eight-year war.
Here are the major themes of the fallout:
- Not Another Vietnam, says James Carafano of the Heritage Foundation at Politico. "The last thing we need is to repeat the real mistakes we made in Vietnam. Then we lost a winnable war when the left and the right lost heart."
- A Moral Obligation, says Will at the League of Ordinary Gentlemen. Referring back to an earlier conservative critique of the war in Afghanistan, he argues that "Given our history of flooding the country with arms, equipment and military training, I'm inclined to believe that the United States does have a moral obligation to help restore order in Afghanistan."
- One Year to Build the Opium Economy, says Justin Gardner in Donklephant. "If we allow Afghans to grow opium legally (as they do in India and Turkey) and sell it to pharmaceutical companies, we can regulate it and they can pull themselves out of the crushing poverty that is the backdrop for sympathetic views of the Taliban. If not, we should just pack up and go."
- Hold and Build, urges Anthony Cordesman in the Washington Post. He outlines the flaws in Obama's current strategy and says that building up civic institutions is the only way forward. "We have a reasonable chance of victory if we properly outfit and empower our new team in Afghanistan; we face certain defeat if we do not."
- Exiting Now's a Fool's Errand, says Mark Levin at National Review. Levin asks of Will and others who urge departure, "What's the strategy after we leave?" Instead, he says the problem is not too much commitment to Afghanistan, but rather "that Obama is cutting the defense budget, he is undermining our intelligence system, and he is pulling troops from Iraq without reconsidering the pace of that action; and now some encourage him to pull out of Afghanistan because the administration lacks a policy there?"
End the War
- Karzai Can't Help, says Douglas Farah at Counterterrorism Blog. "A foreign fighting force cannot win unless a host government, viewed as legitimate by its people, is fighting the war as well. That is not the case in Afghanistan."
- Don't Become an LBJ, warns Jon Taplin at TPM Cafe, hitting on an allusion echoed elsewhere. "Have we forgotten how Lyndon Johnson's obsession with Vietnam poisoned the legacy of his domestic accomplishments? This is where Obama has to make his bones. Get out of Afghanistan."
- Remote Warfare the Only Way, says Alexander Muse at Conservative Dallas, saying that the only logical path is to convert the war operation over to drones. " To be honest, it is the ONLY logical option for us at this point."
- Obama's Vietnam, says Gene Healy at the Cato Institute. "Obama has made Afghanistan a 'liberal war;' ironically enough, it may also be a war from which only liberals can disentangle us."
Weigh the Options
- More Time Needed, argues Joe Klein at Time. "We have to see what, if anything, emerges from the Afghan election. We have to see what, if any, impact the augmented U.S. troops--who are still arriving--have on the fight. We have to see what, if any, impact the augmented non-military component--the increased aid, the additional aid workers and economic development specialists--have on Afghanistan."
- Let the Experts Debate, says Hugh Hewitt at Townhall. "But whether or not to remain in the battle in Afghanistan is a subject that has an all too direct connection to 9/11 and the potential for future mass attacks on the homeland. Allowing the Taliban to re-establish a sovereign state with the ability to welcome and encourage suicide jihadists is not a subject on which I trust Mr. Will's judgment."
- Analyze the Costs and Benefits, says Robert Stein at Connecting the Dots. "If Barack Obama is to avoid becoming another LBJ, it's time for a hard-headed reassessment of the risks and rewards of sending more troops to die in a country that has just shown it can't have an honest popular election and can't keep enough of a lid on corruption to enlist its own people against Taliban jihadists."
- Obama's Fork in the Road, says Steven C. Day at Buzzflash. "Obama needs to figure a way out this mess and soon or everything else he hopes to accomplish will turn to grief. Yes, it's damn convenient for someone such as Will to reach this conclusion only now, when "the other side" is in office. But the truth is still the truth."
- Three Questions, says Taki at the Reality Based Community. First, he asks, could Will's robot-driven strategy work? Second, to ensure flyovers, can the U.S. rely on "a large presence in the participatory democracy of Uzbekistan." And before withdrawing, we should say that "the chance of Al Qaeda reconstitution" is still "a better deal than getting caught in quagmire."
- Damned If We Do, warns James Poulos in the New Atlanticist. "If we're prepared to face up to our fears and face down our myths in Afghanistan, the uncomfortable possibility must be considered that we can afford neither to double down nor to cut our losses. Rather than cause for despair, this should be an occasion for truly creative policy thinking."
- Two Choices, says Kevin Drum at Mother Jones. Drum argues that there are two scenarios the military could outline if we withdraw. One, the Taliban could take over completely. Two, the central government could wage an effective, if indecisive civil war, while the U.S. focuses on eliminating al Qaeda. He suggest "We know how to protect a military base from an insurgent force like the Taliban, and fighting from there would be a helluva lot easier than trying to do it from offshore," as Will proposed.
- The Next President May Be Better, says Matt Lewis at Townhall. "Considering Abdullah would likely be an improvement over Karzai, even if one agrees with Will about 'nation building,' the prudent writer might have at least postponed his declaration of failure until after the fate of Karzai was determined."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.