The inspiration for this post comes from a Michael O’Hanlon article entitled “Staying Power: The U.S. Mission in Afghanistan Beyond 2011” that appeared in the September/October 2010 issue of Foreign Affairs. O’Hanlon does a masterful job of articulating the problems that where facing Afghanistan as of that writing and still holding true today such as corruption at all levels of government and the uneven success the Americans and Afghans have had in insuring security in provinces throughout Afghanistan. Insurgent violence had escalated, committing President Obama to send 30,000 troops in as part of the surge, even as President Obama’s own advisors such as Joe Biden and National Security Advisor James Jones doubted such a strategy. Such a deliberation indicates a reluctance or skepticism about the situation in Afghanistan, shared with the American public. I wanted to take another approach though and ask: Does America have the will to stay in Afghanistan far past the recent announced drawdown of troops?
Although the economy has eclipsed the wars, the American public has a strong distaste for large casualties of war, suggesting that the Taliban and Al Qaeda could in fact, kill us out of war. With the economy weak, the billions of dollars spent in Afghanistan could be seen by a war weary public as a risk that we just don’t need. It would help the American public, if we finally got the definitive answer as to what constitutes winning and what our leaders are hoping to accomplish. Winning is a neat buzz word for everyone from Charlie Sheen to hawkish senators who scream from the halls of Congress about winning the war in Afghanistan. Yet few politicians have clearly defined what constitutes “winning.” Without this definition, defined for the American public, all we see are news reports of x number of soldiers killed in Afghanistan today and another sack of money spent. And politicians wonder why support for the war is so low because the only reason you’ve given the American on Main Street to care about it is by televising announcements of war casualties as we spend more money. Because America hasn’t seen much of success in Afghanistan, IED’s, roadside bombs, mass corruption, and Taliban are the face of Afghanistan. That’s not a picture that would entice a nation of three hundred million to stay in the long term.