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Over the past few months, the Obama administration has been grappling with questions about the nature of the enemy in Afghanistan and the best way to fight the war there. As the administration prepares to announce its revised military strategy, we are pleased to bring you a selection of articles from the Foreign Affairs archives to show how these questions have been addressed in the past.
"Report From Afghanistan." By Claude Malhuret. Foreign Affairs 62, no. 2 (1983/84): pp. 426-35.
"Afghanistan: The Accords." By Rosanne Klass. Foreign Affairs 66, no. 5 (1988): pp. 922-45.
"The Taliban: Exporting Extremism." By Ahmed Rashid. Foreign Affairs 78, no. 6 (1999): pp. 22-35.
In 1979, Soviet forces invaded Afghanistan to prop up its struggling communist government. Four years later, they were bogged down in a quagmire. Noting that the world's largest army had not yet been able to overpower a "handful of people standing tall against the invader," Claude Malhuret wrote that the Soviets' problem was their approach to counterinsurgency: as long as they neglected to win over the population, they would never succeed. Indeed, by 1988, Moscow was ready to capitulate, and Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Soviet Union, and the United States came together to sign peace accords. Reporting on the agreement, Rosanne Klass predicted that if the Soviets kept their word and withdrew, the Afghan regime would fall. When the Soviets did pull out a year later, the move ushered in almost a decade of civil war, which ended with the Taliban capture of Kabul in 1996. The Taliban's radicalism and connection to Arab extremists troubled Ahmed Rashid. He predicted: "Afghanistan's chaos will only spread. Terrorism will develop new adherents there. The drug trade will expand. These are costs that no country -- not Afghanistan, the United States, its allies, China, or Iran -- can hope to bear."
"A Flawed Masterpiece." By Michael E. O'Hanlon. Foreign Affairs 81, no. 3 (2002): pp. 47-63.
"Our Man in Kabul: What Hamid Karzai's Rise to Power Means for How He Will Govern Now." By James Dobbins. ForeignAffairs.com, November 4, 2009.
"A New Model Afghan Army." By Anja Manuel and P.W. Singer. Foreign Affairs 81, no. 4 (2002): pp. 44-59.
"Afghanistan Unbound." By Kathy Gannon. Foreign Affairs 83, no. 3 (2004): pp. 35-46.
"Saving Afghanistan." By Barnett R. Rubin. Foreign Affairs 86, no. 1 (2007): pp 57-78.
On September 11, 2001, Afghanistan's chaos did spread as al Qaeda terrorists who had trained there struck the United States. Months after the ensuing U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Michael O'Hanlon proclaimed the campaign a "masterpiece of military creativity and finesse" but cautioned that the mission might fail if Osama bin Laden remained at large. In a recent Web-only piece, James Dobbins recounted his experiences in helping to create a new Afghan national government in the wake of the war, including the selection of Hamid Karzai as its first president. Yet even as the government came together, the army remained woefully neglected. Analyzing the ethnic and religious disputes hindering the army's development, Anja Manuel and P.W. Singer cautioned that Afghanistan would be unable to fend off remaining Taliban and al Qaeda members should international troops leave. Kathy Gannon criticized what she saw as another blind spot in U.S. policy: American support for the thuggish warlords who had been associated with the Northern Alliance. As the situation deteriorated, Barnett Rubin decried the Bush administration's "light footprint" strategy. Far from achieving its objectives, he argued, the war had sown instability and pushed the leadership of al Qaeda out of Afghanistan into a new theater -- Pakistan.
"Can the Right War Be Won? Defining American Interests in Afghanistan." By Steven Simon. Foreign Affairs 88, no. 4. (2009): pp. 130-7.
"Taliban vs. Predator: Are Targeted Killings Inside Pakistan a Good Idea?" By Daniel Byman. ForeignAffairs.com, March 18, 2009.
"Flipping the Taliban: How to Win in Afghanistan." By Fotini Christia and Michael Semple. Foreign Affairs 88, no. 4 (2009): pp. 34-45.
"Know Thine Enemy: Why the Taliban Cannot Be Flipped." By Barbara Elias. ForeignAffairs.com, November 2, 2009.
"How Dangerous Are the Taliban? Why Afghanistan Is the Wrong War." By John Mueller. ForeignAffairs.com, April 15, 2009.
The Obama administration's accession prompted a fresh look at U.S. policy in Afghanistan. Reviewing the recent history of the conflict, Steven Simon questioned the logic of counterinsurgency for Afghanistan and came out in favor of counterterrorism -- specifically, drone strikes. Daniel Byman argued that while such strikes carry risks and would not fully defeat al Qaeda, they were a sensible option nonetheless, given the alternatives. Fotini Christia and Michael Semple, for their part, argued in favor of counterinsurgency, noting that a "committed effort to persuade large groups of Taliban fighters to put down their arms and give up the fight" could tip the balance against insurgents. But this argument had detractors as well. For reasons of ideology and legitimacy, explained Barbara Elias, the Taliban would be unable to give up al Qaeda and must be defeated. Brushing this concern aside, however, John Muller claimed that al Qaeda was weak and no longer much of a threat. Obama's open-ended war in Afghanistan, he wrote, would eventually come to seem as wrongheaded as Bush's in Iraq.