Af/Pak in Tatters: The Debate Is On

Six months ago I wrote a post questioning America’s ability to wage a proper population-centric counterinsurgency. The post noted the structural features of modern democratic institutions that make waging a “Long War” near impossible. I ended this post with a projection for the next year:

Iraq is a dead issue; coalition deaths are at an all time low and the SOFA has forced a political consensus onto Republicans and Democrats alike. Iraq has all but disappeared from the news; the Project for Excellence in Journalism reports that not even 1% of last week’s news coverage involved Iraq.

Taking its place is the counterinsurgency in Afghanistan. The Scholar’s Stage has previously reported that the American consensus on Afghanistan has been destroyed. As I noted in that post, the media’s change in tone between 2008 and 2009 is astounding. A media storm is brewing, and once the “surge” is underway it shall break out in full fury.
I have outlined the results of the last media storm. Is there a reason to believe this one shall be any different? Indeed, is there any feasible reason to think that at least one of the 2012, 2016, 2020, or 2024 major party platforms will not be pressing for a withdrawal from Afghanistan?

That storm is now upon us. It has been building since late 2008, and now, as the possibility of more American troops being sent to the front raises ever day, it is unavoidable. As I predicted, the public backlash against the war in Afghanistan has begun.

Unlike those of the past, this debate is not one of tactics. Rather, great swathes of the intelligentsia and the populace are doubting if we should should be in Afghanistan at all. Is waging a counterinsurgency campaign inside Afghanistan within the United States strategic interests? America is divided on the question.

There are two signs that lead to this conclusion. I have collected various resources that demonstrate each sign quite clearly.

Over the last two weeks the section of the Internet devoted to national security has seen an explosion in content related to Afghanistan. Prompted by a few well placed essays in opposition to our current course, the debate over our strategic goals in Afghanistan has been raging unabated across magazines, journals, policy memos, and blogs. While in many cases nasty and vitriolic, the debate has produced a few very good pieces which are worth your attention.

The War We Can’t Win: Afghanistan and the Limits of Power
Andrew Bacevich. Commonweal. 14 August 2009.

On COIN and an Anti-COIN Counterrevolution?
Mark Sanfranski (“Zenpundit”). 7 August 2009.

Is It Worth It? The Difficult Case for War in Afghanistan
Stephen Biddle. The American Interest. August 2009.

Afghanistan Strategy Dialogue: My Thoughts
Andrew Exum (“Abu Muqawama”). Abu Muqawama. 17 August 2009.

On Afghanistan and Strategy

Mark Safranski (“Zenpundit”). 14 August 2009.

The debate among the security thinkers reflects a larger shift in the views of the population as a whole. While it has gone relatively unreported, the American people are incredibly uneasy with the idea of a protracted COIN campaign in Afghanistan.

Public support lacking for COIN in Afghanistan

Dave Anderson. Newshoggers.6 August 2009.

Obama Faces Rising Anxiety on Afghanistan
Spencer Ackerman. Washington Independent. 12 August 2009.

America strategic vision is clouded. Whether or not we can remain committed to Afghanistan is yet to be seen.

Note by the author: If you are pressed for time and can only read a few of these articles, I reccomend the Bacevich, Ackerman, and Safranski (“Afghanistan and Strategy”) peices.

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One Comment

Great post. Now there is even an ABC/Washington Post poll out showing less than 50 percent of Americans think fighting in Afghanistan is worth it and Richard Haass calling Afghanistan a "war of choice." I was in Iraq in 2005-2006 when the media had decided that the war was lost… I hope the same does not happen in Afghanistan in late-2009 into 2010.