The Ice Palace and the Durand Line

December 17, 2010

The Ice Palace and the Durand Line

Leaving the Afghanistan strategy review for a moment—no, that's not a castle from Lord of the Rings; it's a picture of the Cleveland Harbor West Pierhead Lighthouse, a version of which ran on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.

Ok, back to the assessment. The Journal applauds President Obama's unwavering emphasis on defeating al-Qaeda, but the New York Times finds little "comfort or clarity" in the review. (For Ahmed Rashid's analysis, click here.) You can also read what Andrew Bacevich, Micah Zenko, Kori Schake, Vanda Felbab-Brown and others are thinking at the Times's Room for Debate blog. In the Washington Post, David Ignatius says talk of withdrawal in July "still sounds like wishful thinking, given the mixed picture," and Eugene Robinson thinks the review proves that the war is "'on track'—to nowhere."

But surge specialists Fred and Kimberly Kagan "are confident" that gains will be made "durable and sustainable," warning against "too narrowly" focusing on the transfer of security responsibilities to Afghan forces. Staying in Afghanistan is important, moreover, as long as Pakistan refuses to go after the Taliban sanctuaries within its borders because the United States can more easily strike at them itself from bases just across the Durand Line.

However, Fred Kaplan says on that such cross-border attacks have not "been large or fast enough," and calls the "long-awaited review" a "bleaker document than it may seem at first glance." He thinks we're "witnessing the opening salvos of a bureaucratic battle between the military and the intelligence agencies."

Kevin Drum of Mother Jones highlights corruption in Kabul, lack of cooperation from Islamabad and falling U.S. support for the war, and says the "tactical gains" made by allied troops won't be able to prevent Afghanistan from become "Obama's" Vietnam.

Over at the Daily Beast, Stephen Carter believes the assessment "actually leaves us with less information about the goals and plans for the Afghan War than we had before." And Afghan-strategy crafter (and TNI contributor) Bruce Riedel says the White House's remarks on progress in Afghanistan are "appropriately modest," and the administration is "right to stay on course."