For PBS, I write:
The sad reality of Afghanistan is that victory is not achievable with our current strategy and policies. Last month, I released a report with my think tank, The American Security Project, which tried to assess President Obama’s goals for the war. The current strategy boils down to three broad goals: deny al Qaeda safe haven, prevent the Taliban from overthrowing the government and build up the Afghan government so it can function on its own…
A political conflict does not necessarily require a huge number of troops. But when pundits talk about “victory” in Afghanistan, the discussion invariably centers on arbitrary troop numbers and not on the politics of the conflict. There is no sense of allowing Afghans to chart their own course, make their own decisions, and yes, even disagree with American policymakers along the way.
The real challenge in Afghanistan is that the American effort (as measured by money, people and attention) has focused almost exclusively on the military, while the Taliban has focused on politics. That is why they target the Afghan police with their IEDs – they are sowing uncertainty, trying to show the people of Afghanistan that their government is worthless, and that international forces are toothless to stop them. The Taliban is winning the war for hearts and minds.
I should note that I frame this discussion against yet another call by Max Boot to keep tens of thousands of troops there for all time. Anyway, discuss.