Can the War in Afghanistan Still Be Won? Opposing arguments in a debate as old as the conflict itself.

Only those who were in the room know what was said in the series of White House meetings about America's policies in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But it's likely that at least some of the views expressed paralleled those heard at last week's Intelligence Squared US debate at New York University, because the six speakers among them counted decades of experience in defense, intelligence, diplomatic, and think-tank circles. The topic, "America Cannot and Will Not Succeed in Afghanistan/Pakistan," put the question about as bluntly as possible.hose arguing for the motion were Steven Clemons, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation; retired Col. Patrick Lang, a former military-intelligence officer; and Ralph Peters, a retired Army officer, author, and Fox News strategic analyst.

Arguing against the motion were Steve Coll, CEO of the New America Foundation; retired U.S. ArmyLt. Col. John Nagl, president of the Center for a New American Security; and James Shinn, assistant secretary of defense for Asia in 2007–08. The moderator was John Donvan of ABC News. Excerpts:

Lang: General [Stanley] McChrystal [the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan] evidently wants 40,000 more people. I would say that's how we started in Vietnam too.The reason I don't think we can win with a counterinsurgency strategy is because three or four years down the pike all you good people are going to say, "Are the Taliban really our enemies, in the sense that Al Qaeda was? Is this really what we want to do?" And when that happens I suspect you're going to tell Congress you've had enough of this, and they will vote to end the war as they did in Vietnam.

Coll: We too often talk about Afghanistan as a primitive land that has been at war for centuries. Afghanistan [before the Soviet invasion in 1979] was a coherent and mainly peaceful independent state. After 2001 Afghans returned to their country from refugee camps and exile to reclaim their state. A strong plurality of Afghans still want to finish that work, and they want the international community to stay and help. Most Afghans are sick of war, and afraid of the Taliban's return. We have an obligation and a national interest and we have the capacity to stand by them.


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