Commentary Magazine


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U.S. Needs to Stick Around in Afghanistan

Yesterday I wrote about the desirability of keeping troops for years to come in Iraq. All the same arguments apply to Afghanistan: namely that if we are to safeguard hard-fought gains, we will need to maintain a military presence in that country for many years too, just as we have in Germany, Japan, South Korea, etc.

The good news is that the government in Afghanistan is more amenable to such an arrangement than the one in Iraq. Thus, as the New York Times notes, talks are already under way to sketch out the post-2014 U.S. role. Hamid Karzai, while a difficult and prickly leader on many issues, has indicated that he would be amenable to some permanent U.S. bases–or at least as permanent as any base can be, given that we are not the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe; our forces can still be kicked out at any time, as happened, for example, when the Philippines demanded in 1991 that we shutter long-standing bases at Subic Bay and Clark Field.

The reason why Karzai is more open to bases than Maliki isn’t hard to see: Afghanistan lacks Iraq’s natural resources. Its main resource at the moment is international aid, and Karzai realizes that his government could not long survive without it. One can put a disreputable spin on this easily enough: the Afghan political class has gotten rich feeding at the international trough and doesn’t want to go without. But whatever their motives, there is every indication that Afghan politicos are open to a long-term U.S. security presence.

The Obama administration, for its part, should do everything possible to seal a deal. It would pay immediate dividends by changing the psychology of Afghanistan and its neighbors. The biggest fear that people in the area have is that the U.S. will abandon them to the tender mercies of the Taliban and related extremist groups. By signaling that we are in Afghanistan for the long haul, we can convince fence-sitters to jump over to our side, and thus considerably accelerate the progress of counterinsurgency operations.