Withdrawal without Winning?
September 14, 2009
by Robert Jervis
Most discussion about Afghanistan has concentrated on whether and how we can defeat the Taliban. Less attention has been paid to the probable consequences of a withdrawal without winning, an option toward which I incline. What is most striking is not that what I take to be the majority view is wrong, but that it has not been adequately defended. This is especially important because the U.S.has embarked on a war that will require great effort with prospects that are uncertain at best. Furthermore, it appears that Obama's commitment to Afghanistan was less the product of careful analysis than of the political need to find a "tough" pair to his attacks on the war in Iraq during the presidential campaign. It similarly appears that in the months since his election he has devoted much more attention to how to wage the war than to whether we need to wage it.
The claim that this is a "necessary war" invokes two main claims and one subsidiary one. The strongest argument is that we have to fight them there so that we don't have to fight them here. The fact that Bush said this about Iraq does not make it wrong, and as in Iraq, it matters what we mean by "them." Presumably if we withdrew the Taliban would take over much of southern and eastern Afghanistan. This would be terrible for the inhabitants, but would it harm us? I don't think anyone believes that the Taliban would launch attacks against us or our allies, so that the menace is not a direct one.
The article was published at ForeignPolicy.com on September 14, 2009.
Robert Jervis is the Adlai E. Stevenson Professor of International Affairs at Columbia University.
Posted by coalition at September 14, 2009 06:08 PM