Are you snickering? I must confess juxtaposing “brights side” with “Afghanistan” prompts a laughing impulse in me, though not a happy laugh to be sure. The image of so many years with our troops there, and what they and their families have sacrificed, the billions poured in and the feared nightmare that when we leave, the government will eventually fall, the Taliban will take over again and Al Qaeda will feel right at home…..again. Back to square one.
That grim vision has been bolstered by a pessimistic intelligence report the outline of which recently appearing in the Washington Post. However, on Thursday Michael O’ Hanlon, an intelligence expert with the Brookings Institution (*1), argued that the future there may be brighter than predicted.
Not that O’Hanlon’s word is golden, but his view seems worthy of consideration (*2), certainly given our general pessimism about the future of Afghanistan, especially in terms of our own security. To summarize his key points:
First: “…intelligence analysts tend toward pessimism because it is far less professionally embarrassing to be pleasantly surprised by developments in a given country than to appear complacent as troubles brew.”
Second: The Afghan troops held their ground in 2013 despite the steady decline of the number of U. S. troops. The number of deaths of NATO troops was down 75% below the highest figures in the war and the main cities were safer than it appears, ” the occasional spectacular attack notwithstanding.”
Third: The presidential race in April seems to be shaping up pretty well, with the major candidates in favor of strong ties with the U. S. Also, by implication, the infuriatingly difficult Hamid Karzai will no longer be president (I added the “infuriatingly difficult”).
Fourth: Even if a new security agreement is not reached with Karzai between now and April, an agreement seems likely once he’s out of office.
O’Hanlon concludes: “At an annual cost of perhaps 10 percent of recent expenses over the past half-decade, and with far lower loss of life, the United States, working with the international community and many Afghan reformers and patriots, has a decent chance of holding on to most of the gains made over the past dozen years — and, crucially, preventing the Taliban from resuming political control of Afghanistan. There is still a powerful case for interpreting the facts in a hopeful vein.”
(*1) Though portrayed as liberal from the right, the Brookings Institution is the most generally respected “think tank” in the country as judged by its research being sited by the greatest number of sources by far. The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) is probably the most respected conservative leaning think tank, which is why I have a link to it on my Blogroll shown to the upper left.
(*2) O’Hanlon has a mixed record of intelligence predictions over the years, but who doesn’t. Here is an article criticizing his optimism regarding a visit to Iraq in 2007. He was initially a supporter of that war, but later admitted his mistake given the poor preparation by the Bush administration for a post-war strategy.