Foreign Policy Blogs

Out and In: Gelb Vs. Boot, Kagan, & Kagan

Today’s New York Times featured two contrasting views of how the US should fight the Afghan insurgency and prevent international terrorism from breeding in the region. Leslie Gelb, President Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, while asserting that defeating the Taliban threat is ‘not achievable’, argues for a steady military drawback from the conflict, accompanied by sustained levels of military and development aid. She advocates a policy that is centered on proven American strengths and staying away from policies in which we have not shown ourselves too capable, nation building. Here she goes:

Mr. Obama needs to consider another path. Our strategy in Afghanistan should emphasize what we do best (containing and deterring, and forging coalitions) and downgrade what we do worst (nation-building in open-ended wars). It should cut our growing costs and secure our interests by employing our power more creatively and practically. It must also permit us — and this is critical — to focus more American resources and influence on the far more dire situation in Pakistan.

Scholars Max Boot, Fred Kagan, and Kimberly Kagan have a much more optimistic view of the situation and argue that the Taliban can in fact be defeated. They believe an Afghan ‘surge’, already started by Obama’s 17,000 added troops, can work:

There is no question that we can succeed against these much weaker foes, notwithstanding the support they receive from Pakistan and to a lesser extent Iran. President Obama’s recent decision to send 17,000 additional troops is a good start. While increased security operations will result in a temporary increase in casualties, that spike should be followed by broad reductions in violence, just as with the Iraq surge.

They acknowledge how difficult the task ahead is, but believe with greater NATO cohesion, larger scale and more effective Afghan army and police training, more flexible detainee laws and workable judicial system, and better intelligence, we can succeed. Unfortunately, the authors do not exactly layout what ‘success’ looks like to them. A functioning government? A democratic government? The Taliban’s complete destruction?

Two worthy attempts at looking at and solving the Afghan conflict, something we did not see much in the news only a year ago.