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A Bipartisan Afghan War Strategy

Posted by The Agonist on April 18th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

It remains true that both Obama and Romney, echoing the consensus of their partys’ powerful, have the same strategy for Afghanistan: declare victory and get mostly out, leaving a rump force to hold bases to try to ensure that things don’t fall apart too soon.

Now that Mr. Romney has emerged as the likely Republican nominee and Afghanistan is again being tested by a Taliban offensive, his position on the war is likely to come under more scrutiny after a primary fight that gave him few opportunities to offer nuanced national security positions. Even so, analysts say he has reasons to be less than precise on Afghanistan: The war’s declining support among voters means there is little space for him to stake out a policy that provides both a sharp political contrast with Mr. Obama and keeps the war’s unpopularity at a distance.

“He doesn’t want to own this war in the event he gets elected, but by the same token he can’t look like he’s advocating a precipitous withdrawal for all sorts of reasons, including alienating the Republican base, and yet he cannot take the same position as the president,” said Stephen Biddle, a military expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. “It’s difficult to square the circle and meet all those constraints at the same time.”

The reason behind the strategy is clear and has nothing to do with counter-terrorism. Both parties (probably rightly) believe that while 66% of Americans want out of Afghanistan, the American electorate will punish any party that is seen to lose the war there. Never mind that the war is already de facto lost and has been for years, the point is that there still be a domestic figleaf of plausible deniability to hide behind. Thus we’re going to see a lot more spin about the legitimacy of Afghan elections and the readiness of Afghan security forces to “stand up as we stand down” between now and 2014 no matter who wins in November. And once there’s a decent interval between “withdrawal” and the inevitable Afghan crash, lines about “if they don’t want to grasp the freedoms we brought them then it’s not our fault” will duly be trotted out.

This is the only real reason America is still at war in Afghanistan. Clausewitz never said that war couldn’t be the continuation of domestic electibility politics by other means.

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