Mullen Report Intensifies Afghanistan Debate

The U.S. commander's request for "more troops and more time" renews the argument over drawing down or ramping up

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There were few surprises in Admiral Mike Mullen's testimony that "more troops and more time' would be needed to quell the rising tide of insurgency, but with the war reaching what many are calling a critical tipping point, lawmakers and commentators have increased the urgency of their appeals to President Obama for deescalation or for renewed engagement.

The Case for Deescalation
  • Refocus Objectives, advise Malou Innocent and Christopher Preble at the World Politics Review. Explaining that the mission in Afghanistan has strayed irrevocably from its original goals of rooting out al-Qaeda and the Taliban, becoming instead a foolhardy attempt at nation-building, the writers advise that the U.S.: "Committing still more U.S. personnel to Afghanistan undermines the already weak authority of Afghan leaders, interferes with our ability to deal with other security challenges, and pulls us deeper into a bloody and protracted guerrilla war with no end in sight." 
  • Domestic Issues Take Priority, asserts MyDD's Charles Lemos. He points to the ballooning cost of keeping American forces in Afghanistan, pegging total spending since 2008 at $171.1 billion, a number which he says is likely to double before the conflict is through. Frustrated that the figures seem not to weigh in to considerations of the debate, he reminds readers: "Each dollar spent on war in Afghanistan is a dollar not spent on human needs here at home. It is time to put country first." 
The Call for a Renewed Push
  • Learn from Bush in Iraq, suggests Michael Crowley at the New Republic. In a surprising rally from the left, he compares the deterioration of the war in Afghanistan to a pre-surge Iraq, when Bush "foolishly tried to limit America's presence" in the country. Retracing the politicking that has dictated military decisions under both Administrations, and suggesting that Obama and Bush share a certain prideful quality that makes them stubborn when it comes to altering strategy, Crowley eventually concludes that "it was only when Bush was honest with himself and the nation about Iraq--admitting that conditions were dire and ordering his politically poisonous troop surge--that he was able to avoid defeat there."
  • Listen to Afghans, said Politics Daily's David Wood reflecting on his own experience in the country, which highlighted deep misgivings the Afghan security forces have about a U.S. withdrawal. Wood's analysis leads him to conclude that any deescalation would be entirely premature and hamper the seeds of progress and peace that are just beginning to sprout: "What I learned: That Americans in Afghanistan, both military war-fighters and military and civilian development experts, finally have their act together. As a result, at least in some parts of the country, people are becoming more secure, more kids are literate, more people have jobs, and more people have a glimpse of a better, non-Taliban life."
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