December 01, 2009

Calm down, Fred

I've called Slate's Fred Kaplan "hysterical" before this. So this doesn't come as much of a surprise. Discussing the worst case in Afghanistan:

As with confronting most messes in life, the initial impulse is to flee. But if we simply pulled out, it's a near-certain bet that the Taliban would march into Kabul, and most other Afghan towns they'd care to, in a matter of weeks.

I don't know anyone who really believes that. A lot of people think the place would return to a state of civil war in a matter of weeks or not days. I've previously said the army would rapidly revert to its Northern Alliance roots and the ANP in places it was unpopular would likely dissolve. But it'd take a while until the Taliban were back in Kabul in any scenario.

The piece Kaplan cites as his evidence for the quote above, by the much more level-headed Steve Coll, doesn't back him up either:

It is inconceivable that the Taliban could triumph in the country completely and provide a regime (however perverse) of stability... [withdrawal] would likely produce a long-running civil war between northern, Tajik-dominated ethnic militias and the Pashtun-dominated Taliban...

For Kaplan to take that statement and translate it to "a near-certain bet" that the Taliban would conquer Kabul again in "a matter of weeks" is the sign of a hysterical mind.

The trouble is that if you go around with that kind of overwrought scenario as your worst-case, you're not in a good position to make sound cost-benefit decisions about the current options.

Not considered is how little possibility the Taliban would have had to go anywhere in the 1990s if they had been opposed by the Northern Alliance and U.S. air power together, even in the absence of ground troops. Ironically, while Vietnamization (local forces backed by Western air power) was wrong in South Vietnam, it could conceivably work much more effectively in Afghanistan, where the friendly forces do not have a much more powerful neighboring nation to fight off as well. A new Northern Alliance supported by special forces advisers, air support and diplomatic checks on Pakistani interference might not ever defeat a Pashtun insurgency on their own, but its hard to see how they wouldn't greatly slow any Taliban resurgence, possibly even reverse it. The worst case in Afghanistan is not as bad as some are making out at all.

Posted by BruceR at 08:25 PM