The Case for Withdrawal from Afghanistan was held at the Cato Institute on September 25th, soon before the October 7th eight-year anniversary of the war in Afghanistan. Ted Carpenter, Vice President for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, had a few questions for the Obama Administration and its military intentions in Afghanistan. He wanted to know what the specific U.S. objectives are for Afghanistan, what the U.S. strategy is to achieve those objectives, and the probability that the country can, in fact, achieve those objectives. In seven years with the Bush Administration, Carpenter claimed, “we never really got a clear answer” to those questions.
A clear answer, to Carpenter, is having defined metrics by which the U.S. Army can measure their success rather than what he called “sloppy thinking.” He said that “Calling vague goals and aspirations a metric does not make them a metric.”
Carpenter then critiqued a few of the current goals and strategies that the U.S. is employing in Afghanistan. First, he argued that the U.S. does not need to try to transform Afghanistan into a stable democracy, nor should the U.S. try to project its own values. Afghanistan is “largely a pre-industrial clan and tribe society” not necessarily compatible with a Jeffersonian democracy, said Carpenter, adding that “nation-building has a lousy track record.”
These criticisms ran parallel to critiques made by Dr. Liam Fox, United Kingdom’s Shadow Secretary of State for Defense, on September 18th at the Heritage Foundation. He, too, said that Afghanistan should not have democracy forced upon it. Mr. Fox did not, however, advise the hasty withdrawal supported by Mr. Carpenter, advising rather that the U.S. should focus simply on stabilizing the volatile region.
Carpenter’s next critique was that the U.S. and coalition forces do not need to win the war on drugs in Afghanistan. On September 14th, Time Magazine reported that “Afghanistan produces the raw opium for more than 90% of the world’s heroin.”
Narcotics account for “at least one-third of the country’s [gross domestic product] GDP,” said Carpenter, although the CIA World Factbook shows the opium trade accounting for about $3 billion out of the roughly $22 billion in Afghanistan GDP. Carpenter expressed frustration with the “war on drugs” in Afghanistan because, he said, while the Taliban gets revenue from drugs, so do many people on the pro-government side.
Lastly, Carpenter emphasized the difference between al Qaeda, a terrorist organization, and the Taliban, which he said represents Pashtun solidarity. He argued that the U.S. military does not need to crush the Taliban and that al Qaeda is, perhaps, no longer a major threat in Afghanistan.
In “Escaping the ‘Graveyard of Empires’: A Strategy to Exit Afghanistan,” which Carpenter co-authored with Malou Innocent, they suggest that the al-Qaeda threat is manageable without a strong U.S. military presence. In light of this “manageable security problem,” they write that “technological advances over the past decades allow us to keep an eye on places without having tens of thousands of boots on the ground.”
General Stanley McChrystal told reporters in early September that he did not “see indications of a large al Qaeda presence in Afghanistan now.” Yet, Gen. McChrystal suggested not a withdrawal of troops, but instead “he repeatedly warns that without more forces and the rapid implementation of a genuine counterinsurgency strategy, defeat is likely” and has called the Taliban a “muscular and sophisticated enemy,” reported the Washington Post on September 21st.
Carpenter, in contrast to Gen. McChrystal, exclaimed that the U.S. does not “need a large military footprint” and said that all forces can and should be withdrawn soon.
Innocent, a Foreign Policy Analyst at the Cato Institute, agreed with the idea of a smaller military footprint in Afghanistan. She criticized General McChrystal’s analysis of the war, saying he presented a “manufactured sense of urgency.” Her suggestion for the future course of the war in Afghanistan was to have a limited goal of training and advising the Afghan security forces, calling this a less costly and less unpopular path. Dr. Fox, on the contrary, argued earlier this month that the U.S. and coalition forces absolutely “need to find the will to see it through.”