Fighting the right war in Afghanistan

Critics of the current U.S. strategy in Afghanistan often miss the point that the practical alternative isn't peace and withdrawal. It's endless war, fought from a distance — the ideal incubator for more 9/11-style blowback.

Daniel Larison

Gen. Stanley McChrystal's removal from his Afghanistan command has let loose a flood of criticism of the administration's war plans that confirms how dreadful the realistic alternatives to the current counterinsurgency approach were last year when Obama approved it. The Rolling Stone profile that led to the general's downfall included an anecdote describing how McChrystal had flatly dismissed Vice President Biden’s preferred "counter-terrorist" approach as something that would create "Chaos-istan." Biden was essentially proposing the continuation of targeted strikes, reduced troop presence and heavy reliance on Special Forces units that had characterized much of the Afghan war effort until last year, and McChrystal saw that as a recipe for dangerous instability. The anecdote was supposed to show McChrystal's unruliness and his difficult relations with the administration, but it was an important reminder that the practical substitute for counterinsurgency in Afghanistan is not withdrawal and peace. On the contrary, the substitute would be an effectively endless war waged from a distance that duplicates the errors that brought the United States to Afghanistan almost nine years ago.

"Win or get out" is an appealing slogan, but what many people mean by withdrawal is the perpetuation of conflict in another form.

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Daniel Larison has a Ph.D. in history and is a contributing editor at The American Conservative. He also writes on the blog Eunomia.