Aug. 20, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Obama’s Afghanistan Policy Tracks Bush in Iraq

Obama also is sticking with his policy against mounting public dissatisfaction and expressions of doubt by “establishment” figures — most recently by Richard Haass, an official in both Bush administrations and now president of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Haass wrote in Newsweek last month that “It is time to scale down our ambitions there and both reduce and redirect what we do.” Haass does not favor a full-scale or sudden withdrawal, which “would almost certainly result in the collapse of the Karzai government and a Taliban takeover of much of the country.”

Rather, borrowing an idea from Robert Blackwill, a former U.S. ambassador to India, Haass favors “decentralization” — what amounts to partition — of Afghanistan, handing over Pashtun areas to the Taliban and equipping other ethnic groups to defend themselves.

This idea parallels ideas floated by foreign policy experts as alternatives to Bush’s Iraq surge— including a partition plan proposed by Leslie Gelb, Haass’ predecessor at CFR, and “redeployment” proposals by the Iraq Study Group.

The latest Gallup poll shows that — no doubt because of mounting U.S. casualty levels — a growing number of Americans (43 percent) believe that the U.S. made a “mistake” sending troops to Afghanistan, even though the question stipulated this first happened in October 2001.

That, of course, was a month after al-Qaida, then based in Afghanistan, toppled the Twin Towers. The memory seems to be fading.

Since then, some 1,220 U.S. service personnel have lost their lives in Afghanistan. Last month, 66 died, the highest monthly toll in the war.

However, that’s far short of the 4,400 who have died in Iraq and the record month, with 131 deaths, in May 2007.

As U.S. commanders have explained, the rising death toll is the result of increased military action to defeat the enemy. By 2008, the monthly average in Iraq was down to 26 deaths as the surge succeeded.

Of course, Iraq and Afghanistan are different countries. Petraeus’ counter-insurgency strategy may not work as well in Afghanistan as it did in Iraq.

And yet, it has to be tried. The United States has abandoned Afghanistan and its nuclear-armed neighbor, Pakistan, again and again — too many times to maintain our credibility as a superpower, should we do it again.

Obama is not giving up, much as Bush didn’t. We can only hope that both are vindicated.

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