What to do about Afghanistan?

Short answer: I don't know.  What to do in Afghanistan strikes me as an extraordinary difficult foreign policy decision and I've yet to read or hear something that thoroughly convinced me one way or the other.  Perhaps that's because being open-minded means accepting that there are no good answers to Afghanistan and there is huge uncertainty about whatever path we choose.  I felt like my studied ambivalence on the issue was validated by Fred Kaplan's latest column in Slate where he confessing to not having a strong opinion about what to do despite writing a column titled, "War Stories."  Kaplan's column nicely lays out the various pro, cons, and uncertainties about the various approaches.  Kaplan's admitted uncertainty and ambivlance is, of course, hugely refreshing in a columnist, and I think in this policy area quite appropriate. The problem for Obama is that, as Kaplan sums it up:

My guess is that President Obama held so many meetings with his national-security advisers on this topic—nine, plus a 10th on Sunday night
to get their orders and talking points straight—because he wanted to
break through his own ambivalences; because he needed to come up with a
reason (not just a rationalization) for doing whatever it is that he's
decided to do, some assurance that it really does make sense, that it
has a chance of working, so he can defend it to Congress, the nation,
and the world with conviction. Let's hope he found something. A
columnist can be ambivalent; a president can't be.

Though my strongest impulse is to question the wisdom of a troop escalation (especially after listening to this amazing edition of Bill Moyer's Journal which featured archival tapes of LBJ discussing whether to escalate in Vietnam), I find it hard to second-guess too strongly any decision Obama makes in this area.  Nobody can argue he isn't giving the matter thorough consideration.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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