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Afghanistan: The Political Challenge for Washington
My colleague Derek Reveron has summed upsummed up the good news and the bad news from on the ground in Afghanistan. This gives us a snapshot of the existing conditions and allows us to assess what is possible. (Thomas P. M. Barnett concludes, in determining the difference between good and bad news, that "we're winning wherever we concentrate our whack-a-mole strategy." The next step to determine is what the United States and its coalition partners will see as politically feasible: what can be achieved on the ground with existing political and economic limits. Judah Grunstein makes the following set of observations:
:There are two ways of reading the publicly released summary of the Obama administration's Afghanistan Strategic Review. The first, admittedly my initial reaction, is as a politically driven document designed to gloss over the reality of the war in order to reconcile the administration's promise to begin a drawdown in July 2011 with the need for a continued military commitment to sustain any gains that have been made in the past year. The second, admittedly my subsequent reaction, is as a reality-driven document that reflects the mixed and sometimes contradictory outcomes since the administration's last policy review, and that correctly manages to postpone the difficult political decisions that will at some point have to be confronted to a more appropriate moment.
What Pakistan does in the near future will also be critical. Will Pakistan "gamble" that using its influence with the Taliban to deliver a settlement in Afghanistan that addresses key U.S. security concerns is the way to go? Or should the U.S. be prepared for alternatives? Former Deputy National Security Advisor Bob Blackwill has this approach in mind. Writing in Foreign Affairs, he lays out this prescription:
At the same time, however, Washington should accept that the Taliban will inevitably control most of the Pashtun south and east and that the price of forestalling that outcome is far too high for the United States to continue paying. To be sure, the administration should not invite the Taliban to dominate the Afghan Pashtun homeland, nor explicitly seek to break up Afghanistan. Rather, the United States and its partners should simply stop dying in the south and the east and let the local "correlation of forces" there take its course -- while deploying U.S. air power and Special Forces for the foreseeable future in support of the Afghan army and the government in Kabul, to ensure that the north and west of Afghanistan do not succumb to the Taliban as well. In short, President Obama should announce that the United States and its Afghan and foreign partners will pursue a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy in Pashtun Afghanistan and a nation-building strategy in the rest of the country, committing to both policies for at least the next seven to ten years. Reluctantly accepting such a de facto partition would be a profoundly disappointing outcome to the United States' ten-year Afghan investment. But regrettably, it is now the best result that Washington can realistically and responsibly achieve.
So the decision as of December 2010 is to stay the course, but over the next half-year, as we approach the first milestone of July 2011, we will see whether the strategy is altered.
 
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