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A New Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan

The new Afghanistan policy that President Obama unveiled at the White House today was pretty much all that supporters of the war effort could have asked for, and probably pretty similar to what President McCain would have decided on.

The major difference between what McCain probably would have said and what Obama did say is that this president never used the word “surge” and — more importantly — never cited the success of the surge in Iraq as evidence that we can succeed in Afghanistan where the situation is far less perilous. He only mentioned Iraq as an unnecessary drain on resources, saying that “for six years, Afghanistan has been denied the resources that it demands because of the war in Iraq.”

That’s only partially true. The reality is that the U.S. has the theoretical capacity to fight in both Iraq and Afghanistan but President Bush made a huge mistake by not enlarging our armed forces after 9/11, thereby forcing us to shortchange the war in Afghanistan to win the one in Iraq. It would have been better if we did not have to make such compromises, but given the unnecessary resource constraints which Bush and Rumsfeld imposed on the armed forces — and which Obama is not lifting — there was really no other choice.

It would be nice if Obama had speaken a bit more positively about the outcome in Iraq now that that it has become, like Afghanistan, “his” war. But that’s a minor quibble about rhetoric. The substance of policy is more important, and on that ground Obama is solid.

The big news — though it had been apparent for some time — is that Obama is eschewing those who argue for a major downsizing of our efforts to focus on a narrow counter-terrorism strategy of simply picking off individual bad guys. Instead, Obama is embracing a more wide-ranging counterinsurgency strategy focused on enhancing “the military, governance, and economic capacity of Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

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