IN SEPTEMBER of 2008, Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made a remarkable statement. He said, "I'm not convinced we're winning in Afghanistan. I am convinced we can. That is why I intend to commission and . . . am looking at a new, more comprehensive strategy for the region." Considering that the United States has been at war in Afghanistan for seven years now, clearly whatever our strategy is, it has not worked.
There has developed an unquestioning consensus that we need to do more. The Democratic Party, united in demanding a swift withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq, supports expanding the war in Afghanistan. The same is true of the Republican Party and the Pentagon. The mainstream press, while savaging the White House for lacking a sensible plan and sufficient troops in Iraq, accepted without question sending more troops to Afghanistan. And now that the surge in Iraq is winding down, a surge for Afghanistan is in the cards.
While U.S. troop numbers will increase, we don't know whether other NATO countries will provide willing and able boots on the ground. Regardless of NATO Europe, America must deal with Pakistan and the sanctuary for al-Qaeda and the Taliban that has festered there like a infectious wound. The corruption attendant to opium continues to tear apart the fabric of trust in Afghan society. Local military and police forces must be trained. Above all, we need to define our goals and acknowledge our limitations on this vital front.
Washington is going to have to finally take into account the country's myriad intractable problems. As the United States is about to enter a larger war, it remains unclear where we are going, or why. How did we arrive at this point? What is the problem? And what are the alternative courses of action?