Yesterday the White House indicated that the promised July 2011 troop reductions from Afghanistan will be “real” and decided “very soon.” A growing array of bipartisan experts, having considered core U.S. interests, conditions on the ground and the sustainability of the effort, has called for beginning significant reductions next month. New poll numbers out today show the public supports that approach. As the U.S. and our allies transition responsibilities to Afghans, it’s essential to look beyond military measures to stabilize the country. The focus should be broadened to promote a political settlement that can represent all of Afghan society, improve governance and foster robust economic growth.
As newly elected officials arrive in Washington to be sworn-in, serious national security issues await the 112th Congress. But perhaps unexpectedly, where a political lens sees conflict, an expert lens shows substantial agreement around principled, pragmatic policy choices. 2011 will mark a significant milestone for the war in Afghanistan, as experts coalesce around an effective, sustainable exit strategy. While some seek to debate counterterrorism strategies, practitioners agree on a comprehensive approach that brings the fight to terrorists, hews to our Constitution and denies terrorists the propaganda victory they seek. Congress can bring bipartisan debt-cutting zeal to a leaner, modernized defense budget. And as senior military officials have warned, dealing with Iran will demand bipartisan subtlety and restraint, lest we cement Iran's determination to acquire the bomb and destroy the beginnings of political reform within the country.
Today, the Obama administration released its strategy review of the war in Afghanistan. The review shows fragile progress in the military campaign against the Taliban, as well as robust actions against al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan - but has less to say about civilian and political milestones. Over recent months, a consensus has quietly emerged among experts across the centrist-realist-progressive spectrum on a way forward in Afghanistan. This consensus recognizes the importance of military gains but promotes the primacy of political efforts, looks ahead to a military drawdown and promises to be more effective, more sustainable - and less costly. This fall, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Center for American Progress, the Afghanistan Study Group and the Center for a New American Security all issued reports on Afghanistan that - perhaps surprisingly - largely agreed on the eight central points below.
Tomorrow, more than 10 million Afghans will participate in the elections for the lower house of Parliament, the Wolesi Jirga - the first Afghan national election since the flawed and controversial presidential election last year. As in the past, experts and military commanders expect to see a "surge in violence" to coincide with the vote, often with symbols of the elections as the specific targets.
Afghan authorities have made some real and meaningful electoral reforms over the past year that have resulted in positive improvements on the ground. But serious obstacles remain, including voter disenfranchisement, a lack of political parties, fraud and disillusionment. Against this backdrop, a robust debate is taking place in Washington and across America on the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan and our strategy in the region.