We’ve spent a day noting the formal end to our nine-year distraction in Iraq. Now let’s return to our first post-9/11 war in Afghanistan, where this active-duty Army colonel doesn’t pull many punches. Paul Yingling writes on the Foreign Affairs web site:
The withdrawal of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) from Afghanistan cannot properly be described as international, an exit, or a strategy. The so-called transition to Afghan leadership by the end of 2014 is a timetable driven largely by U.S. domestic politics. When this timetable is complete, Afghanistan will still be at war…The future of Pakistan is more difficult to predict. It could limp along as a failing state, or suddenly fail with little warning. The West knows so little about the internal dynamics of the country that virtually any significant change will come as a surprise. Although the exact timing and extent of state failure in Pakistan is difficult to predict, the consequences of such failure are not. Partial or total state failure of a nuclear Pakistan would pose a grave threat to the United States. In such a scenario, the White House would not know who controlled Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. A nuclear-armed al Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba, or other extremist group would be difficult if not impossible to deter.
ISAF’s exit from Afghanistan has much more to do with American domestic politics than with coalition strategy. American fiscal constraints and political paralysis set this course in motion long ago, and corrective measures are unlikely in the absence of a crisis. Too often, what passes for strategic thought in the United States is actually a struggle among self-interested elites seeking political, commercial, or bureaucratic advantage. Such behavior is the privilege of a country that is both rich and safe. However, a pattern of such behavior is self-correcting: no country that behaves this way will stay rich or safe for long.
Guess it’s a good thing Colonel Yingling is due to retire next summer.