With Al Qaeda Reduced, Reevaluating Afghan War

If the terrorist group succumbs, is the American mission in Afghanistan accomplished or just beginning?

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Al Qaeda, the West's original impetus for invading Afghanistan, may be "severely constrained" there and in Pakistan, the Wall Street Journal reports. The news comes after a weekend that included one of the war's bloodiest battles, leaving eight Americans dead. America's continued involvement in Afghanistan, fervently debated of late, faces new stakes. At the heart of discussion: If we've succeeded in reducing al Qaeda, should we now leave, or do groups like the Taliban pose a sufficient threat to require staying?

  • Stay. You Can't Fight Terrorism in a Failed State Fred Kagan and Kimberly Kagan argue that a strategy pure counterterrorism (the "CT option") was destined to fail without serious nation building. "In reality, any 'CT option' will likely have to be executed against the backdrop of state collapse and civil war in Afghanistan, spiraling extremism and loss of will in Pakistan, and floods of refugees," they write. "These conditions would benefit al Qaeda greatly by creating an expanding area of chaos, an environment in which al Qaeda thrives. They would also make the collection of intelligence and the accurate targeting of terrorists extremely difficult."
  • Shifting Af-Pak Politics Could Change Any Moment Andrew Sullivan urges patience. "If I were to approach this from an ideological perspective or simply as a political assessment of Obama's short-term domestic interests, I could probably come to a swift conclusion. My Tory pessimism tells me that, after a war now as long as Vietnam, this is a hopeless endeavour," he writes. "But right now, hold on to see what emerges after the results of the imminent Pakistani military campaign in Waziristan and after we know more about the post-election position in Afghanistan.The time for a deep strategic call may not, in fact, be now. It will, for sure, be soon. But in wars and politics, timing is everything."
  • Could U.S. Partisanship Save The Taliban? Thomas P.M. Barnett wonder how Washington's partisan split could feed Afghanistan policy. "If I'm the Republicans, I see a winning issue here in 2012: the 'good war' reduced to just claiming a victory over al Qaeda won't play well when the Taliban once again rule Afghanistan," he writes. "If I'm al Qaeda, I feed this assumption (dare I say 'myth' like the proverbial White House 'senior official'?) that Taliban rule does not equate to a sanctuary for my group. Americans get turned around very quickly: they think one thing today and another in eight months."
  • Terrorists, Now More Creative, Still Flourish in Af-Pak Thomas Friedman warns, "we may be tired of this 'war on terrorism,' but the bad guys are not. They are getting even more 'creative.'" Friedman says one of the "many fronts" against terrorism remains Afghanistan and Pakistan. "In the long run, though, winning requires partnering with Arab and Muslim societies to help them build thriving countries, integrated with the world economy, where young people don't grow up in a soil poisoned by religious extremists and choked by petro-dictators so they can never realize their aspirations."
  • Obama's Domestic Mandate Precludes Endless War E.J. Dionne worries that President Obama's domestic goals, including health care reform and the economy, could suffer dramatically as Afghanistan consumes his attention and agenda. "Obama was elected not to escalate a war but to end one," Dionne writes. "The truth is that Obama has only bad choices in Afghanistan." Dionne notes that al Qaeda shrinks as the Taliban grows. "The last thing [Obama] should do is rush into a new set of obligations in Afghanistan that would come to define his presidency more than any victory he wins on health care. Those most eager for a bigger war have little interest in Obama's quest for domestic reform."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.