Mullen’s Choice: Troops For Afghanistan Or Troops For Iraq
With these words, Adm. Mike Mullen joins the ranks of the reality-based community:
We are exploring a number of options and opportunities to get a better understanding of the scope of the threat and the best means with which to counter it. I’ve made no secret of my desire to flow more forces, U.S. forces, to Afghanistan just as soon as I can, nor have I been shy about saying that those forces will not be available unless or until the situation in Iraq permits us to do so. It’s a very complex problem, and it’s tied to the drug trade, a faltering economy and, as I’ve said many times, the porous border region with Pakistan.
There’s no easy solution, and there will be no quick fix. More troops are necessary, and some of our NATO allies have recently committed to sending more of their own, but they won’t fully ever be sufficient. We need and are pursuing a broader interagency international approach, one that includes infrastructure improvement, foreign investment and economic incentives, and I’m hopeful these efforts will begin to pay off in the near future. But we all need to be patient. As we have seen in Iraq, counterinsurgency warfare takes time, and it takes a certain level of commitment. It takes flexibility.
For years, the Bush administration has either ignored Afghanistan or pretended that America’s resources were elastic enough to accommodate two wars at once. They’re not. You can resource one war. In fact, the more you think about fighting two wars at once — especially when one of them is a war of choice — the crazier it is. “It’s what war is, you know?” said Slim Charles. “Once you in it, you in it.”
But here’s the paradox — the rub that frustrates all counterinsurgencies. More troops, at this point, might either be a marginal benefit or actually counterproductive. A former CIA official recently told me:
“There is a natural rhythm in Afghanistan,” the ex-CIA official said. “When you have a sufficient number of occupying troops then you become the issue, the resistance is generalized and then you’re in a situation no one has ever solved… If we turn [the current resistance] into a general uprising, we may not get out without humiliation. No one else has.”
I don’t know what the magic number is. We’ve managed so far to avoid sparking a general uprising. But that’s no guarantee that an Afghanistan Surge won’t. Still, recognizing that the choice is Iraq or Afghanistan is a baby step forward.