Searching for the least worst option in Afghanistan

By Marvin G. Weinbaum | Director, Afghanistan and Pakistan Program - The Middle East Institute | Mar 30, 2018
Searching for the least worst option in Afghanistan

In her March 15 op-ed in The New York Times, “”, former National Security Advisor Susan Rice offers three "bad options" for the United States as a solution to the Afghan conflict: a limited engagement focusing on providing training, equipment, and advice for Afghan security forces which she argues would only slow down the Taliban; a complete withdrawal of troops, which would then leave the Afghan government prone to increased insurgency and interference from other international and regional players; or a strategy of permanent presence in the country. The Trump administration, she argues, has chosen the third option, but without explaining it to the American people.

Rice has got it right in asking the Trump Administration to level with the American people over the purpose of our military presence in Afghanistan. As she argues, an indefinite commitment can be a reasonable price to pay to avoid leaving a vacuum in which globalist terrorist networks can thrive. Rice cites the 65-year long deployment of American forces in South Korea as an example of pursuing a maintenance strategy. But her argument assumes an American public and Congress willing to accept an open-ended troop presence and indefinite conflict in an Afghanistan that may remain unreformed and disunited. U.S. policy in South Korea helped it to become a model economic and political success story. It is difficult to imagine the unquestioned continued presence of U.S. troops in the country had it remained the underdeveloped, undemocratic country it was in the 1950s.

Rice realistically rules out a military victory or broad reconciliation with the Taliban. She overlooks, however, what may be the only strategy that can justify to the American people our continuing presence and also offer a way to end it. That involves buying time so that Afghans can be induced to put their security, economic and political act together and regain the confidence of the Afghan people. It entails gradually weaning away insurgent fighters in a process called reintegration. Failing this, and admittedly the odds are not favorable, the United States will find itself, as in Vietnam, without a regime on which to ground its presence and the means to secure its strategic interests.

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