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Following up on Kevin's post, one element that seems to be missing from the discussion about the surge in Afghanistan is the nature of Afghanistan before the U.S. intervention. Kevin highlights this quote from Foreign Policy's Blake Hounshell:

For years, the U.S. more or less tried Vice President Joe Biden's preferred approach of keeping a light footprint and limiting U.S. military operations to going after bad guys, while de-emphasizing nation building. That didn't work either. So I think it's worth giving COIN more time to succeed, whether or not McChrystal is the man implementing it.

I think it's worth asking what the metrics are here. Hounshell asserts that the Bush/Biden approach didn't work - so what didn't it do? Did al Qaeda establish training camps inside Afghanistan and use it as a launch pad for international terrorist attacks against the U.S. homeland? No. Did the Taliban capture Kabul, re-institute sharia across the country and lay out the welcome mat for bin Laden & company? No. Did it end the country's thirty year civil war, Pakistan's cultivation of militant networks inside Afghanistan or usher in liberal democracy? No. It didn't do that either.

There is plenty to fault with the Bush administration's approach to Afghanistan - especially the decision to shift intelligence assets out of the country in 2002 to focus on Iraq. As Kevin said, they struck an untenable straddle of "occupation lite" - pretending that we were going to patch the whole country up while devoting patently insufficient resources to the task. But that said, the entire purpose of the Afghan war was to drive al Qaeda out and make sure they didn't come back. And in that respect, Bush can rightly claim "mission accomplished."

Moreover, he did that while simultaneously drawing U.S. intelligence assets and high-level military, political and diplomatic attention away from Afghanistan. That suggests to me that if President Obama refrains from any further wars and occupations in the Middle East, he should be able to ensure that Afghanistan is not al Qaeda Central at a modest expense.

The over-arching problem, it seems to me, is that Washington cannot really publicly reconcile itself to the fact that it is going to leave Afghanistan much the way it found it: at war with itself. Even if the current COIN strategy succeeds, it will simply transfer the onus for fighting onto a better trained Afghan National Army. Either scenario - COIN or counter-terrorism - ends with an Afghanistan that is still rife with conflict.