Jay B. Gaskill

Afghanistan’s Taliban are playing us. The game is simple: Surround & infiltrate innocent pockets of non-combatants; start shooting, then fade just before the American attack, reaping the psychological rewards when the body count hits the New York Times. This is a test of toughness and will for the new president; for the military, not so much.

The insurgent/terrorist strategy of the last thirty years has gotten more sophisticated and so has the US military. But at the end of the day, the exercise looks a lot like a battle against cancer. Chemo often succeeds but it ravages the patient as it attacks all those rogue pathogenic cells.

To his credit, President Obama has not dismantled the previous administration’s military achievements in Iraq and Afghanistan for an excellent reason: The disastrous costs of Defeat overtop the significant costs of Victory. Of course, the “V’ word is subject to ongoing redefinition. But the bottom line is clear enough: It is the conversion of two hostile and dangerous regimes into stable, non-hostile, not dangerous ones.

At the time of the Iraq invasion, the neo-cons promoted a new strategic vision: The old model in which we unseat a dangerous regime then install a puppet dictator who will be not hostile and not dangerous was no longer viable. Therefore we should attempt to install a quasi-democracy that would serve three goals: (a) a stable model of consensual governance in the region (b) a non-hostile regime with prospects for economic health (c) better PR for us than the “Here’s another American puppet general” solution. As the invading forces entered Iraq, the old model was still policy. But when the WMD’s couldn’t be found, the neo-con vision was adopted. Thanks to a once-in-a-generation military genius, General David Howell Petraeus, the new game plan has worked in Iraq. And it is now clear why the Bush administration picked Iraq as its first major venture. It was the low hanging fruit, the one regime most easily dislodged, the one threat most readily neutralized.

Here is the irony of the day. President Obama will rescue the Bush legacy by retaining the gains in Iraq, but he now owns Afghanistan. Will it be Lyndon Baines Obama? Because of the proximity and potential instability of a nuclear Islamic Pakistan, the stakes could not be much higher. This is a test of strategic vision to be sure. But above all it is a test of courage and will.

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