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The Political Environment That Would-Be-Ambassador Eikenberry Confronts

Soon-to-be-Retired Gen. Karl Eikenberry’s confirmation hearing to be ambassador to Afghanistan is scheduled to begin this morning, and while he’s probably hemmed in somewhat by the fact that the administration has not yet releasing its new Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy, no senator has expressed any opposition to him.

One explanation for this is that few in Washington have taken particularly passionate positions on Afghanistan. As a result of Iraq for so long having diverted American attention away from the war, there aren’t hardened ideological positions or proposals that predictable coalitions feel the need to go all out to either support or defeat. That’s generally a good thing: there’s breathing space to ask real questions about a fuller panoply of policy options. The downside of such situations is that people tend to back simple or uninformed prescriptions, unmoored to the facts on the ground, or graft superficially familiar examples onto the debate; and I’m hardly an exception.

That said, three recent pieces on Afghanistan are worth checking out. Ilan Goldenberg urges a middle path for U.S. policy; Matthew Yglesias very tentatively backs the Obama proposal; and Christian Brose thinks his fellow Republicans should support Obama. My guess is the political mood of Eikenberry’s hearing will probably fall along these three lines. There’s no enthusiasm for Obama’s Afghanistan gamble, and there’s a lot of fear that it won’t work, but there’s not much visible outrage at it either, with the important exception of Get Afghanistan Right.

Update: Something I messed up — Eikenberry is on active duty, but he’s agreed to resign from the military as soon as he’s confirmed as ambassador. Impressive decision. Sorry about the mistake.

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