Democrats have a point when they say that the Iraq War has caused us to lose focus on Afghanistan. But that isn’t an argument for scuttling out of Iraq. Among other things, a defeat in Iraq would make our task in Afghanistan much tougher. It is an argument for doing more in Afghanistan.
Even as the situation in Iraq has been improving, things seem to be getting worse in Afghanistan. The Karzai government looks weak and ineffectual (hence the rumors that America’s Afghan-born ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, is exploring a run to succeed Karzai), while the Taliban and Al Qaeda are looking stronger thanks to their sanctuaries in the tribal areas of Pakistan.
NATO is having a hard time meeting its responsibilities in the south because so few of its members are willing to fight. The Canadians, British, Australians, and Dutch are welcome exceptions, but attempts to get the Germans and other nations to step have gotten nowhere. Even the Canadians and others who are willing to fight are having trouble doing so because of equipment shortages. This Financial Times article gives a good overview of the parlous state of the south.
Since attempts to get NATO do more are likely to prove unavailing, that leaves only one serious option: sending more American troops. The administration has already decided to send 3,200 more Marines, but a working group at the American Enterprise Institute is calling for a much larger commitment. According to this article, the AEI group, headed by historian Fred Kagan, is recommending a surge of three extra brigades (probably around 15,000 troops) in 2008-2009. That will put further stress on the overstretched armed forces, but it should be doable, especially with five surge brigades leaving Iraq.
That surge, recall, was originally outlined by this same AEI group and drew much ridicule in the rest of Washington. But the Iraq surge has worked and so should the Afghanistan surge—especially if it is accompanied by some of the other steps recommended by the AEI group, including working to bolster the counterinsurgency effort in Pakistan.