Obama on Kabul
When the president gives his speech announcing his new Afghanistan policy, he should address the following four points:
1) A clear statement of U.S. goals. Ensuring that Afghanistan does not emerge as a threat to American interests, for instance, does not require an Afghanistan that is democratic or particularly liberal, nor, in some scenarios, does it even require a unified central government. So linking specific ends (e.g. we want a functioning, democratic Afghan government) to distinct U.S. interests (in order to keep control of both the territory and population of the country) would be appreciated.
2) Quantifying the al-Qaeda threat. Has the group been able to reopen facilities in those areas of Afghanistan that are under Taliban control? Do we have any hard numbers in terms of the presence of actual al-Qaeda members in Afghanistan? Do we have any clear intelligence that suggests that the al-Qaeda leadership is preparing to relocate back to Afghanistan in the event of a Taliban victory, or has the new "al-Qaeda 2.0" model taken hold?
3) Indicators for success. Why does the president believe this new strategy (and troop increase) will work? Have there been factors observed on the ground, any pilot programs, any negotiations with Afghan leaders that suggest an increase in U.S. forces will lead to correspondingly good effects? I'd be much more concerned if the strategy rests far more on assumptions made in Washington salons rather than on hard data from the field.
4) That there is a plan B and plan C. If this initial strategy doesn't produce results, will the response be to insist that there is "light at the end of the tunnel"? Or will we reevaluate and retool based on the actual feedback we get from the ground? How much does this strategy depend on Afghans "doing their part?"
Nikolas K. Gvosdev, a senior editor at The National Interest, is a professor of national-security studies at the U.S. Naval War College. The views expressed are entirely his own.