Thursday, January 31, 2008

Choose Your Own Adventurers

The American Enterprise Institute recently organized a policy conference to assess the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, and come up with policy proposals for addressing the problem. The new group, called the Afghanistan Planning Group, was headed by Fred Kagan and was comprised of many of the same people that made up the Iraq Planning Group - the AEI group, also headed by Kagan, that produced the now famous surge strategy in Iraq.

You'll never guess what this most recent AEI sponsored Planning Group came up with to cure what ails the Afghanistan mission: a Surge! Bet you didn't see that one coming.

Now, truth be told, sending more troops to Afghanistan is actually a good idea, one that I support. However, there is an obvious underlying context, given the messengers and their track record, that renders this advice fanciful at best, if not outright mendacious. By way of background, we never had enough troops to handle the missions in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and the strain on the armed forces of maintaining even this insufficient status quo has been acute (ie, the suicide rate is spiking) and the consequences will be long lasting (lowering standards, repeatedly, to try to bolster flagging ranks).

Nevertheless, with full knowledge of the difficulties then-facing our armed forces, last year AEI recommended that an enormous surge of troops be sent to Iraq; a bubble to be kept there for an indefinite period of time. Bush responded with a lower number than requested increase - but has recently indicated that he intends to keep troops above the pre-Surge level through the end of his term.

So now AEI also wants to add a few extra brigades to Afghanistan. Sure. Me too. But why stop there? I say ten more brigades. Do I hear eleven? Twelve? Ponies? Going once...

It's a lot easier to call for more troops in a vacuum than to actually locate some to send. There aren't exactly extra brigades just waiting around to be mobilized. They're in Iraq - thanks in large part to the AEI crowd. This is just a microcosm of the larger problem, though. Compromising the mission in Afghanistan was one of the trade offs of invading Iraq when we did. Resources are finite, and Iraq was prioritized. It's nice that Afghanistan has, after about 6 years, once again managed to draw some attention from the AEI gang, but unless AEI and others are willing to advocate for a shift in force size in Iraq - involving a massive withdrawal of troops - calling for escalations in Afghanistan will be little more than hollow posturing in pursuit of exoneration.

For AEI denizens, it's all about having your surge and feigning it too.

One more thought on the set of policy recommendations to emerge from this effort. They include this:

Threatening the Pakistanis with unilateral U.S. strikes into Pakistani territory unless the Pakistanis take the initiative to clear al-Qaida’s safe havens themselves.

Word to the wise: It's bad policy to issue threats that one is not willing to follow through on. Under the most charitable interpretation, then, this is a recommendation to make a hollow bluff that, if called, would damage our credibility. The alternative is truly frightening.

(hat tip to Justin Logan)

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