The highly anticipated 2017 White House strategy for Afghanistan has many experts warning there are no good policy options, let alone an effective number of U.S. troops that will solve what Gen. John Nicholson calls a “stalemate” between insurgents and the Afghan government. Given recent Taliban gains in places such as Helmand and Kunduz, and devastating attacks in the heart of the capital Kabul, the U.S. metric for success sits on a dreary spectrum of lose now, lose later or try not to lose at all. One thing is for certain, the outcome for Afghanistan rests no longer on the shoulders of the United States, rather it is Afghanistan’s burden to bear. The United States has proven inept at drive-through state building—not because it is corrupt or unskilled, but because state-building is complex and long term. Retired Gen. David Petraeus recently called the mission in Afghanistan “a generational struggle” akin to our security objectives in Korea. If we truly seek success, as Petraeus argues, we need to “be there for the long haul.” But what being there looks like is another question. A sustainable long-term strategic vision would prioritize going “urban” over going “local” in Afghanistan.
“Why ‘America First’ is also Kabul First,” with Waheed Ahmad in The National Interest, August 2017.