The third front in Afghanistan: the American public
The US must convince its Afghan allies of its commitment to developing a stable nation. That can't happen without US public support.
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American leaders can resist the public's wishes for only so long. If the public continues to oppose the effort in Afghanistan, the US may have to pull out early – even if the counterinsurgency is working.Skip to next paragraph
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This is crucial, because under a counterinsurgency strategy Afghanistan is either worth fighting until our goals are achieved, no matter how long it takes, or not worth fighting at all. A middle ground – where the US spends billions more, American soldiers and Afghan civilians continue to die, and we place yet more credibility on the line, only to leave early and have the Taliban return to power – would be worse than if the US pulled out in the first place.
For these reasons, when Obama analyzes McChrystal's plan he needs to consider not only if it would work had he five to 10 years of steady support, but also – despite the vague nature of some of the goals – whether it will deliver results tangible enough to convince a weary public to provide that very support.
Should he choose prolonged escalation, Obama has to walk a fine line between managing and raising expectations. While telling the truth, he needs to raise expectations so people believe the goals are worth the costs. But he needs to manage expectations so people won't lose faith if the strategy doesn't deliver immediately.
He needs to make the public aware of the absurdity of nation-building on two and four-year election-cycle time frames. It took America 12 years to replace the unworkable Articles of Confederation with the Constitution. Americans seem to forget that when we complain about the lack of progress in Iraq or Afghanistan.
After eight years of war, there are now three fronts in the conflict against the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and associated regional movements, commonly called "AfPak."
The first is in Afghanistan. The second is in Pakistan. And the third is in America, where the public needs to maintain a high enough level of support for our commitment to the Afghan people to have credibility and sufficient longevity.
It is now the age of "AfPakAm."
Jacob Bronsther, a law student at New York University and former Fulbright scholar, writes for ThePublicPhilosopher.com. Shalev Roisman, a Harvard Law School graduate, recently completed a clerkship on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City.