Lowering expectations on Afghanistan

A gaffe is when a politician inadvertently tells the truth, and Stephen Harper did just that on CNN:

Western forces alone can never defeat the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan and President Barack Obama better realize that in shaping his strategy there, says Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
In an interview aired Sunday on the U.S. news network CNN, Harper said he’s “delighted” the U.S. president is sending more troops to the country in the short term.
Many of them will be deployed in the Kandahar region, where more than 2,000 Canadian soldiers already on the ground can use the help.
But in the longer run, said Harper, it’s the government in Kabul that will have to run its own country and be responsible for its own security.
“We’re not going to win this war just by staying,” he told interviewer Fareed Zakaria.
“Quite frankly, we are not going to ever defeat the insurgency. Afghanistan has probably had — my reading of Afghanistan history (is) it’s probably had an insurgency forever of some kind.
“What has to happen in Afghanistan is we have to have an Afghan government that is capable of managing that insurgency.”

The Globe and Mail, smelling blood, jumps on the “we are not going to ever defeat the insurgency” comment:

Canada, allies will never defeat Taliban, PM says
[…]
Although Mr. Obama has made clear that he regards military success as only one dimension of eventual success in Afghanistan, he has never suggested defeating the insurgency can’t be done.
Rather, he has exhorted allies to do more militarily.
“We must renew our resolve to rout the terrorists who threaten our security in Afghanistan,” Mr. Obama said during his major foreign-policy speech in Berlin during the election campaign. “The Afghan people need our troops and your troops, our support and your support to defeat the Taliban and al-Qaeda.”
And just before his trip to Ottawa and the announcement he was sending 17,000 more soldiers to Afghanistan, Mr. Obama said the war in “Afghanistan is still winnable,” although he made clear that solving “the problem of Afghanistan, the Taliban, the spread of extremism” cannot be accomplished “solely through military means.”
However, with a NATO summit next month and Mr. Obama keen to secure more military commitments from increasingly reluctant European allies, Mr. Harper’s assessment that defeating the insurgency is impossible may reinforce the split in the alliance.
Canada is one of the very few allies so far willing to send soldiers to southern Afghanistan, heartland of the Taliban where the insurgency has been growing. For Ottawa to be taking the position that foreign troops can’t deliver victory may make Mr. Obama’s task harder.

For some Globe readers, Harper’s downbeat assessment of Afghanistan is proof that he’s a crazy Republican neocon warmonger. Go figure. How many Canadians realize that President Hopenchange is much more hawkish than their “right-wing” Prime Minister?
Damian P.
Update: more at The Torch, including an interesting comment from Terry Glavin. LGF readers are dismayed, but one commenter posts this excerpt from the CNN interview:

ZAKARIA: So, we are never going to defeat the insurgency. The best we can do is train Afghan forces that can take it on, and then we withdraw.
HARPER: Absolutely. Because I think, you know, a part of the calculation there is the fact that, ultimately, the source of authority in Afghanistan has to be perceived as being indigenous. If it’s perceived as being foreign — and I still think we’re welcome there — but if it’s perceived as being foreign, it will always have a significant degree of opposition.
ZAKARIA: Is it your sense that Karzai’s government has legitimacy and should be backed? What do your people tell you?
HARPER: There is no doubt that governance in Afghanistan has to improve, and has to improve much more quickly than what we’ve seen in the first — how many years is it now — almost eight years?”

Who can argue with that?

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7 thoughts on “Lowering expectations on Afghanistan

  1. “There is no doubt that governance in Afghanistan has to improve, and has to improve much more quickly than what we’ve seen in the first — how many years is it now — almost eight years?”
    So why single out Afstan for difficulties in this regard? After all the same situation exists in almost all “third world” countries. And for far longer than eight years. Moreover in this case Islamist Jihadism is the problem, not just usual third world instability. If we give up and bug out, Osama bin Laden will have been shown right about who is the “weak horse”. With an ensuing great deal of encouragement to very many people with very awful ideas.
    The prime minister needs to be rather more honest–or realistic. If we’re trying to combine wish and practicality in order to define some sort of quasi-perfect success, then we’re acting on stupid premises. Which is to say that Western action, military above all, is necessary in order to give Afghans the chance for a considerably better life than offered under the Taliban redux.
    Mark
    Ottawa

  2. Here’s an excellent piece by Brian Platt at his The Canada-Afghanistan Blog (in which amongst other things he baits the Dawg):
    “A Short Rant On Harper, Afghanistan, And Pathetic Progressives”
    http://canada-afghanistan.blogspot.com/2009/03/short-rant-on-harper-afghanistan-and.html
    Meanwhile the Globe and Mail publishes a solid editorial; one only wishes its reporters and headline writers were as reasonable, rather than seemingly obsessed with “Gotcha!”:
    “When even modest goals are ambitious”
    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20090302.weHarper03/BNStory/specialComment/home
    Mark
    Ottawa

  3. Good on Norman Spector:
    http://www.members.shaw.ca/nspector4/MIND.htm
    “–What the Globe reported yesterday on Steve-stan
    ‘Canada, allies will never defeat Taliban, PM says
    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/LAC.20090302.AFGHANHARPER02/TPStory/International
    this is the first time the Prime Minister has explicitly said defeating the Islamic extremists can’t be done.’
    –What the Globe reported on April 3, 2008
    ‘NATO answers Harper’s request for troops (Globe, April 3, 2008)
    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20080402.wnato_france0402/BNStory/International/home
    The Prime Minister also told the audience that it was unrealistic to think that foreign forces could defeat Afghan insurgents, so Canada’s benchmark for success will instead be to train the country’s own armed forces to take over the job of fighting the Taliban.
    “We do not believe that the ultimate success on the military side is that NATO will increase troop levels until the point where we snuff out the resistance. That’s not realistic,” Mr. Harper said.'”
    The problem with his CNN interview was the tone and emphasis.
    Mark
    Ottawa

  4. PMSH is correct, but maybe too brutally honest for some folks and I would say he is focusing expectations rather than lowering them.
    He has also just done Obama a huge favor by getting that argument into the US political dialogue while the O Team is doing its A-Stan strategy evaluation.

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