Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Afghan Endgame?

George Will certainly stirred up a lot of anger among my fellow righties with his column yesterday saying that the U.S. ought to withdraw the bulk of troops from Afghanistan and transition to a more remote engagement relying on drones, special forces strikes, and such rather than pursuing the troop-intensive strategy of counter-insurgency General Stan McChrystal has laid out.

Counter-insurgency is necessarily nation-building, as it relies on establishing not only security, but also civil relations and functioning institutions. Will has been consistent, unlike many on the right, in opposing such endeavors on traditionally conservative, politically realistic grounds. He made similar arguments about our involvement in Iraq.

As a neocon, I must disagree with Will and that near-isolationist impulse, as well as with pure political realism generally. Having little engagement and even less influence in places like Afghanistan is what created such a headache for the United States in the first place. Make no mistake, there always have been and always will be those who want to kill on a mass scale. The U.S. is not to blame for its suffering the 9/11 attacks because of our inattention to that region. But there can be little doubt that our inattention did at least allow Al Qaeda and its Taliban allies to increase their operational capability, enhance their training and grow bolder and more confident in their agenda.

As so many of us said after 9/11, never again.

Americans cannot allow the festering sores on the other side of the globe to become wounds in our own national body. We cannot rely on technology, no matter how impressive, to keep us safe from cells of enemies who hide in caves and blend in with civilian populations. Drones and satellites and cruise missiles cannot help us weed out the bad guys from the innocent civilians across Afghanistan. And if we do not continue to root out and kill those bad guys, they will grow more powerful once again.

We cannot allow that.

George Will is a brilliant, thoughtful conservative. But he's wrong on this issue. America must not only remain in Afghanistan, we must win our counter-insurgency and embrace the nation-building so many of us on the right still bemoan. Like it or not, we live in a world of intervention now. Either we intervene on our own security behalf, or the terrorists will intervene in our lives in the most horrific of ways.