When I think of wars I’ve known, they seem to boil down to a three-legged stool: capability, will and time. The U.S. always has plenty of capability; will and time – not so much. Dollars can buy capability, but not the other two. Part of the dearth in will and time is due to the repeated perversity of Congress in shirking its responsibility by sub-contracting wars out to the White House. Congress never declares war anymore – it simply declares its dismay when things start heading south. Why should Americans send their most precious resource — their sons and daughters — off to risk their lives in war when politicians won’t risk their political lives to declare it? Or to stop it?
Time is a key ingredient. The current Iraq war sputtered – none dare call it peace – and the Balkan wars flared out, after the warring sides basically grew tired of fighting. It’s that sense of the role that time plays in ending conflicts that U.S. defense policy sometimes seems to discount. From a warrior’s perspective, it’s always more grand to cite your own tactical brilliance – the “surge”! – than to acknowledge weariness by combatants.
That’s why this morning’s story in the Washington Post on the current course of the Afghan campaign has the smell of truth to it. The Taliban are weathering the storm of attacks the U.S. and its allies have unleashed on them, the Post’s Greg Miller reports. Their belief that President Obama’s pledge to begin reducing the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan next summer energizes them, as does their ability to slink from Afghanistan to Pakistan across the Durand Line, where they find sanctuary. Sometimes, it seems, capability is measured in something other than boots on the ground and drones in the sky.