Expert opinion, public opinion, and even the White House are increasingly split between two camps on how we should proceed in Afghanistan: The doves, represented in the White House by Vice President Biden, call for targeted counterterrorism and a scaled down presence; while the hawks, with whom President Obama seems to side, insist that only boots on the ground and a strong counterinsurgency can tame the Taliban and restore stability. Divisions between the two are contentious and a clear path for success remains elusive. But an unusual program in Saudi Arabia may offer a way for both to come together.
Saudi Arabia has a novel approach to terrorism: rehabilitation. The program seeks to reform captured terrorists with religious re-education and even art therapy. Once released, extensive government outreach may purchase them a car or even arrange a wife. In short, the goal is to reincorporate extremist militants into society. Officials say over a thousand terrorists have been reformed. It stands to reason that Saudi Arabia, one of the world's more oppressive regimes, would not be so taken with the program unless it was effective.
The U.S. should apply a similar program in Afghanistan, perhaps jointly with Saudi Arabia. It should appeal to both sides of America's Afghanistan debate. A rehabilitation program would be part of a broad and aggressive counterinsurgency strategy of curbing destabilizing violence, but it would also be a step towards regional involvement from Saudis and thus a reduced American presence further down the line. The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Obama is considering sending some Guantanamo detainees to the Saudi program. The White House must see the merits of the program, then, and would be amenable to applying it elsewhere. More importantly, with the U.S. and Saudi Arabia working together on counterterrorism, a joint Afghanistan program wouldn't be out of the question.