Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Kristol Responds

William Kristol has responded to the George Will essay I linked below. Kirstol is a major figure in Republican politics and he disagrees with his compatriot's new position. His response models how good arguments are made - respectfully and with arguments grounded in evidence.

Who do you think made the better argument? Why?

Article reprinted below for educational purposes. I have no idea why the picture was copied too.

No Will, No Way

George Will is dismayed by American casualties in Afghanistan, unhappy about the length of our effort there, dismissive of the contributions of our NATO allies, contemptuous of the Afghan central government, and struck by the country’s backwardness.

I share many of these sentiments. But they are sentiments. It would be better to base a major change in our national security strategy on arguments--especially if you’re advocating a change from a policy that’s been supported for eight years by a bipartisan consensus, and that involves the area that was the staging ground for Sept. 11.

Will does seem to allow that we have a core national interest in Afghanistan--“to prevent re-establishment of al-Qaeda bases” there. He then makes a recommendation that would presumably achieve that goal--that “forces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, air strikes and small, potent special forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan.”

But would this succeed in preventing the re-establishment of terror bases? This “comprehensively revised policy” doesn't sound much more engaged than U.S. Afghan policy in the 1990s. Will would have to explain why it would work better this time--or why the price of failure wouldn’t be higher than the price of continuing to prosecute the war with a revised counterinsugency strategy of the sort Gen. Stanley McChrystal has suggested.

Well, perhaps a counter-insurgency strategy simply can’t work. Writes Will: “Counterinsurgency theory concerning the time and the ratio of forces required to protect the population indicates that, nationwide, Afghanistan would need hundreds of thousands of coalition troops, perhaps for a decade or more. That is inconceivable.”

But as the military historian Fred Kagan explains, counter-insurgency theory and experience suggest that if the Afghan National Army is expanded, as Gen. McChrystal proposes to do, and if there is a surge of several brigades of American forces “to bridge the gap between current Afghan capacity and their future capacity, while simultaneously reducing the insurgency’s capabilities,” then we would have roughly the number of forces necessary to carry out the strategy.

Will acknowledges in passing what seems to be another important national interest--Pakistan, “a nation that actually matters.” But Will never tries to show--counterintuitively--that retreat from Afghanistan would increase rather than decrease the chances of an acceptable outcome in Pakistan. And this is to say nothing of the broader consequences of defeat in the Afghan theater in the war against the jihadists. If the United States of America is driven out of Afghanistan by the Taliban, the group that hosted the Sept. 11 attackers--what then?

Will closes with an appeal to Charles de Gaulle: “Genius, said de Gaulle, recalling Bismarck's decision to halt German forces short of Paris in 1870, sometimes consists of knowing when to stop. Genius is not required to recognize that in Afghanistan, when means now, before more American valor...is squandered.”

But let’s be honest. Will is not calling on the United
States to accept a moderate degree of success in Afghanistan, and simply to stop short of some overly ambitious goal. Will is urging retreat, and accepting defeat.

As Will says, we have sent America’s finest to fight in Afghanistan. It is true that we have under-resourced and poorly strategized that fight. The right way to keep faith with our soldiers and Marines is for our national leaders now to support a strategy, and to provide the necessary resources, for victory.

4 comments:

  1. Both of them make really good points and I've really been torn for a while on what to do in Afghanistan. On one hand, I feel it's just a losing battle ("Where Empires Go to Die"). On the other hand, when forming Afghan policy, Pakistan HAS TO BE at the forefront. Retreating from Afghanistan will do nothing to stabilize Pakistan--it will do the opposite if anything. And a Pakistan less stable than it already is should be frightening to anybody.

    Will does have a point though. What do we gain by staying? We can fight, fight, fight and Afghanistan will still be Afghanistan. People try to make comparisons between Iraq and Afghanistan when they are nothing alike. Iraq was secular (gov), Afghanistan was/is definitely not. Iraq, under Saddam, had a very stable government (despite being cruel in every sense of the word). Afghanistan is #2 behind SOMALIA, says Will.

    If it weren't for Pakistan, I would say Obama is completely wrong in trying a surge similar to Iraq, because they are nothing alike. But Pakistan brings up so many obstacles. I don't have an answer. I can't say which I agree with.

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  2. Okay, so I don't really know what to think about the war so I'm going to leave my opinion out of it. I think that both Will and Kristol pose good points, but Kristol does so with better evidence. Kristol is right, Americans are sort of passive about their support for the war and that support is waning. Maybe if we fully supported the war, and came up with a good strategy, we might succeed in keeping the bases from being reused. However, Will seems to be saying that the amount of troops there currently aren't getting the job done and we could keep terror bases from being used again offshore. I don't know who's right, but I think Kristol did the better job in providing an argument. He backed up his beliefs with better evidence, in my opinion anyway.

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  3. I can't believe I'm agreeing (for the most part anyway) with Bill Kristol. That's...new.

    Kristol used some of the same arguments as I used, and he argues well (citing a military historian? Go Bill!). He directly take Will's words and counters them. He effectively uses history in his arguments to contradict Will.

    However, I of course had some qualms with the article. Kristol mentions certain aspects of Will's article (see first paragraph), but he never counters them. He doesn't go into depth about NATO, the Afghan government, and poverty in Afghanistan. How can he make a truly effective counterpoint if he doesn't even mention a quarter of the other article? He focuses far too much on terrorism itself. The War in Afghanistan is much broader than that. Kristol, in a way, strips the war he's supporting of its complexity, probably on purpose for his own purposes.

    Kristol further oversimplifies the war by not proposing any actual solutions, which Will did. He counters those solutions but makes no specific ones of his own. He says only:

    "But let’s be honest. Will is not calling on the United
    States to accept a moderate degree of success in Afghanistan, and simply to stop short of some overly ambitious goal. Will is urging retreat, and accepting defeat.

    As Will says, we have sent America’s finest to fight in Afghanistan. It is true that we have under-resourced and poorly strategized that fight. The right way to keep faith with our soldiers and Marines is for our national leaders now to support a strategy, and to provide the necessary resources, for victory."

    Those paragraphs are crap. Like I said, he offers no concrete solutions. He uses only conservative talking points so popular during the worst years of the Iraq War that made the majority of Americans tune out the Republicans from 2006 to the present: claiming the opponent is suggesting "cut-and-run" on the way to "defeat" (which, in Afghanistan, is about as hard to define as "success"), glorifying US troops without actually saying anything meaningful about them (exploiting their name as well as turning opponents off to them when they shouldn't be turned off to at all), having a complete lack of accountability (WHO, exactly, made the War in Afghanistan "under-resourced and poorly strategized"? Would Kristol dare say that the Bush administration did?), and calling for "victory" but leaving it totally undefined and not actually suggesting how to get there. That's not helping the Republican viewpoint at all.

    And Will has all the bases covered, and he backs most of it up with evidence. So while I agree with Kristol more (pretty freaky to say that), I have to say that George Will made the better argument.

    I still can't believe I'm agreeing with Bill Kristol....

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  4. I think that Kristol makes a better argument than Will. I don't know enough about the situation in Afghanistan and how the U.S. is dealing with them to have an opinion on the matter. Kristol has an advantage in the argument though, because he knows what he is going up against. Will was just expressing his ideas, he wasn't trying to argue with any particular person, wheras Kristol could take Will's specific points and argue against them. The second person in an argument always has an advantage because they know the exact things that they can disagree with and try to prove are wrong.

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