Stephen Biddle and Karl Eikenberry are outstanding public servants and scholars, but their respective articles on Afghanistan (“Ending the War in Afghanistan” and “The Limits of Counterinsurgency Doctrine in Afghanistan,” September/October 2013) convey excessively negative assessments of how the war is going and of Afghanistan’s prospects.
Their arguments could reinforce the current American malaise about the ongoing effort and thereby reduce the odds that the United States will continue to play a role in Afghanistan after the current NATO-led security mission there ends in December 2014. That would be regrettable; the United States should lock in and solidify its gains in Afghanistan, not cut its losses.
Biddle argues that the U.S. Congress and other donors are unlikely to keep funding the Afghan government after 2014. Based on this conclusion, he states that the only other viable options for Washington are to broker a power-sharing deal between the Afghan government and the Taliban or to end its mission immediately.
This argument hinges on Biddle’s assessment of U.S. politics more than any military or strategic analysis. His reference to U.S. policy in Vietnam in 1973–75 is overdone. A more relevant historical precedent for Afghanistan is the fact that Washington has maintained long-standing security and economic commitments to partners such as Egypt, Greece, Israel, South Korea, Taiwan, and Turkey. These cases belie the contention that the United States has too short an attention span to sustain aid to important allies over a protracted period. Future U.S. commitments to Afghanistan would probably incur only ten percent of the cost and casualties of the war to date. If the mission succeeds, moreover, Congress is likely to continue to provide funding. It is a curious and circular argument to say that because the mission might fail in the future -- due to Washington’s undependable staying power -- the United States should throw in the towel and concede defeat now.