Ignatius, Friedman and Ricks on Afghanistan

Last week, op-ed columnists Tom Friedman of the New York Times and David Ignatius of the Washington Post both voiced their opinions about what the US should do in Afghanistan.  Mr. Friedman argues that America should begin to withdraw its forces from the country (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/28/opinion/28friedman.html?_r=1&em).  Mr. Ignatius takes a different view and says that the Obama administration should approve Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s request for 40,000 additional troops to combat the Taliban insurgency (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/10/29/AR2009102903921.html).

On his blog, The Best Defense, military analyst Tom Ricks provides an interesting critique of the two arguments (http://ricks.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2009/10/30/afghanistan_a_pundits_smackdown).

Mr. Ignatius gives a very detailed analysis of the situation on the ground in various localities of Afghanistan, and he has recently spoken to military commanders and gotten their assessments about the way things are going.  Mr. Ignatius’ weak point is his optimistic assumption that the Afghan security forces will be able to secure their country without US assistance in the foreseeable future.

Mr. Friedman focuses on broader trends and historical cases of political transformation in the Middle East to make his case.  The most dubious part of his argument is his injustified assumption that if America pulls out of Afghanistan the following will happen: the Afghan Taliban will fight amongst themselves and fail to regain power because of the strength of local warlords; the Pakistani government will defeat the Islamic militants in their country; and Osama Bin Laden will inevitably be killed by a drone aircraft if he ever emerges from his hiding place.  The first two scenarios will not come to fruition if history is any indicator, and it highly unlikely that Bin Laden will be killed by an airstrike if the US does not leave enough forces in Afghanistan to maintain and defend its airfields from the Taliban and other hostile elements.

Pulling out of Afghanistan is a good idea if one assumes that the US cannot achieve its objectives there in a reasonable amount of time.  But it would be naive to assume that doing so would not have serious negative consequences.

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