Why We Are in Afghanistan

Aug 19, 09 | 6:40 AM   byMichael Wolff
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At some point that I missed, the New York Times shifted its daily count of the American dead in Iraq to a count of our dead in Afghanistan, now heading toward 800.

In keeping with the grim statistics of the growing war, the Times is also reporting that candidates in the coming election are staking their ground on how to negotiate with the Taliban—which logically portends eventual capitulation (wasn’t the whole point of our being there to obliterate the Taliban?). Meanwhile, by apparently universal consensus, everybody in Afghanistan hates President Hamid Karzai—a figure of grand corruption—but is resigned to him getting reelected anyway. Oh yes, and we’re putting more American troops on the ground there.

This is a certain sort of news paradigm: Everything is going wrong, terribly, terribly wrong, but, given the extended time frame of the story, nobody is paying much attention to it. Obvious and egregious failures of policy, stacks of dead bodies, and an inevitably bitter outcome can still be boring.

Partly this is because it is not in anybody’s political interest to make it interesting. The Republicans cannot suddenly become anti-war. If they have any natural position it is to want to be more aggressive there. But the Obama administration is already pushing that envelope, leaving anti-war Democrats in an equivocal position. Indeed, all along the Obama anti-Iraq-war strategy has been a pro-Afghanistan-war strategy.

Let’s assume Barack Obama doesn’t really want to be in Afghanistan—certainly not like George Bush (and Dick Cheney) wanted to be in Iraq. Rather, for the president, Afghanistan is a balancing act. By shifting the emphasis to the Afghan theater, he creates a tactical and moral imperative for getting us out of Iraq. And, too, by talking tough in Kabul he can keep the Republican war-on-terror, security-at-all cost people at bay. And, then, somehow, one fine day, get everybody home again.

Pardon me—and this takes no foresight—he’s going to get bitten in the ass.


We’ve now got major car bombs a stone’s throw from the US embassy. That one, on Saturday, killed 7 and wounded 100. They always get bigger, these bombs. As that happens, we get in deeper. And suddenly the situation that nobody has been paying much attention to turns into the central drama of our time. And then you can’t walk away—you’ve got to win, or go through the motions of trying to win, or stabilize, or anyway do the opposite of seeming to turn tail—always a multi-year commitment.

Really, where is there a sign in Afghanistan that doesn’t have calamity written all over it?

Come on. Nobody ever wins in Afghanistan. And everybody knows this.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at
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