Zakaria Crashes the Afghanistan Debate

Stay in Afghanistan, writes Zakaria, countering George Will's earlier proclamation. But Robert Jervis from Columbia disagrees.

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Two weeks after George Will's high-profile call for withdrawal in the pages of the Washington Post, another celebrity journalist has weighed in on the Afghanistan question. Also writing from the Post, Fareed Zakaria, globetrotting urbanity personified, has offered a counterpoint to Will's bow-tie betrayal of the conservative line. But mere hours after Zakaria's "withdrawal is not an option," Columbia's Adlai E. Stevenson Professor of International Affairs, Robert Jervis, had an opposing argument up on Foreign Policy's AfPak Channel blog. Here are the two new views:

  • Stay for Security, and Learn to Deal  Zakaria's op-ed argued that "the most important reality of the post-Sept. 11 world has been the lack of any major follow-up attack. That's largely because al-Qaeda has been on the run in Afghanistan and Pakistan." So "it's time to get real," Zakaria wrote. Withdrawal won't work, but deal making will by "shrink[ing] the number of enemy forces by making them switch sides or lay down their arms." Success in Afghanistan is not about ending poverty or corruption, but about rendering the country "inhospitable to al-Qaeda and similar terrorist groups."
  • Withdrawal Harm is Exaggerated, and Not an Excuse to Stay  Jervis took issue with Zakaria's and others' fundamental A to B arguments: that our withdrawal would have negative consequences, and that thus we must stay. He couched his insightful critique of this response, however, in regrettably mangled prose:

Of course Yogi Berra was right when he said that prediction is difficult, especially about the future. But once we move beyond the alluring but unsustainable claim that our inability to exclude the possibility that withdrawing would be very harmful means that we must fight, it becomes clear that we are building a large and risky war on predictions that call for closer examination.

Stripping away the labyrinthine verbiage: we shouldn't keep wasting money and lives just because there might be a negative consequence if we stopped.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.