Last night, before an audience of cadets at West Point, President Obama brought months of deliberate review to a close by announcing a new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. He outlined America’s ultimate goal: “to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future.” More importantly, the administration must hold itself accountable, communicating its progress to Congress and the American people, and remaining true to the President’s pledge that “that America has no interest in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan.”
As the uncertainty surrounding the flawed presidential elections demonstrates, getting Afghanistan policy right will require more than a purely military approach. Currently, a significant and important debate is taking place amongst credible military and foreign policy experts over whether a full-bore counter-insurgency strategy is the right course for America’s national security. Contrary to his predecessor, President Obama is weighing all the options on the way forward in Afghanistan and is focusing on getting the strategy right.
While world attention has waned in recent weeks, the Afghanistan–Pakistan region’s decline has continued. Afghanistan has suffered a spike in violence, which could intensify as the summer continues and the August Presidential elections approach.Yet the debate that is underway offers hope because it returns three factors to the scene that were absent for too much of the last eight years: comprehensive, well-resourced attention to the region; hard questions and meaningful oversight from people inside and outside the Administration; and an approach that goes beyond the application of military force to focus on the core interest of the region’s people – and of the United States.