07 December 2009

Hate the Surge, Not the Timetable

While I am more or less skeptical of both the necessity and the prospects for success of the new surge plan for Afghanistan, I have a bone to pick with its critics. Much of the criticism of the plan's rollout has centered on the fact that President Obama included a goal of beginning withdrawals in 2011 contingent upon conditions in country.

The standard (usually right-wing) argument (generally made by folks who otherwise "support" sending more troops) goes something like this: "the Taliban will just hole up for 18 months and wait us out." By the way, this same assertion was made a few years back by all of the same usual suspects with respect to Iraq.

Here's why this argument won't fly:

1) One of Al-Qaeda's primary goals is to draw the US into long, open-ended wars and occupations in Muslim countries. Committing ourselves to long, costly occupations plays right into UBL's hands.

2) In COIN warfare, it's important to make it clear to the population that you don't intend to occupy indefinitely. Withdrawal timelines (predicated upon achievable benchmarks) are clear signals that you don't intend to be a permanent occupier. For more on this, see David Edelstein's journal article "Occupational Hazards: Why Military Occupations Succeed or Fail."

3) With a less than desirable client like the Afghan government, a deadline could serve them to actually get their butts in gear. They need us more than we need them. See here.

4) Again, one common argument is that the insurgents will just lie low and wait us out. As SecDef Gates said, if so, awesome! This would give more time to prepare local forces to take over, spare American troops, and give time to consolidate gains.

Armchair Generalist expands upon this:

- Order would be restored.. Afghani government and Coalition order, not Taliban order.

- Afghani security forces would continue to get training. Expansion of security forces would create jobs.

- Infrastructure creation could begin in earnest. Currently more is spent on security for infrastructure programs than for construction. Infrastructure creation requires labor.

18 months will peal away quickly but it's more than enough time to dull the desire for Taliban-style stability.

18 months of work for locals, real jobs will certainly be preferable to getting shot at.

None of this is to say that there aren't plenty of reasons to criticize the Afghan surge! Critics should just do so in more well thought out manner. See, for example, Juan Cole.

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