Friday, December 15, 2006

Best of a Bad Lot

It's clear that there is no good outcome in Iraq, at least not one that is by any means likely to come to pass. So, which of the bad choices should the United States choose?

One answer comes from Anthony Cordesman, a highly respected international security expert: Concentrate on Afghanistan, which he (or at least an NYT headline writer) calls "One War We Can Win."

While not minimizing the problems facing the US and its allies in Afghanistan, Cordesman present a concise analysis of the factors that could retrieve victory there.

Changing our point of emphasis from Iraq back to the mountains and valleys of Afghanistan is the only realistic hope we have of retrieving some credibility in the Muslim world. Suppressing the Taliban would be a defeat for their al Qaeda allies and would most likely be accompanied by pressure on bin Laden and his fellows to depart Pakistan, if they escape capture. Even if they were able to set up shop elsewhere, the blow to their prestige would be immense.

Concentrating our efforts on Afghanistan would also mean--if we are to be effective--giving the citizens of that warn-torn land the progress and development they need, and that we promised them.

What are the chances of being able to mount an campaign that turns the tide in Afghanistan, defeats the Taliban and al Qaeda, and also reduces the influence of the opium trade? Not good. Those in charge of the war for the next two years will be, after all, the same people who gave us the disaster that is Iraq. Victory in Afghanistan will require vision, flexibility and realism--qualities conspicuously lacking in the Bush administration. Still, it is worth trying, for two reasons: it is vital to keep the country from falling back into the Middle Ages, and there is no better alternative.

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