This article from David Sanger in last weekend’s New York Times is a must read for those who believe that there were simple solutions to Afghanistan and ‘if we only had done this back in 2002 then everything would be fine.’ From the opening:
If only we had been smart enough, the arguments went, the “good war” might not have gone bad. If only we had gone into Tora Bora with overwhelming force in the winter of 2001, and captured Osama bin Laden. If only we had put a substantial force into the country in 2002, rather than assuming that the Taliban had been “eviscerated,” the term used, and now regretted, by American military briefers. If only we had carried through on President George W. Bush’s promise of a “Marshall Plan” for Afghanistan.
If only we had not been distracted by Iraq, or averted our eyes from the Taliban’s resurgence, or confronted the realities of Pakistan’s fighting both sides of the war …
Similar arguments are made about Iraq: If only we didn’t disband the Iraqi Army in 2003, etc. Perhaps there is truth to that, but do those who make such claims consider how the Shia and Kurds, who had been oppressed by Saddam’s Army, would have reacted had Saddam’s Army officers been kept in place?
When confronted with the ‘if only’ argument, my answer is: The reality is that we cannot build a time machine, change our policies, and see what the outcome would be. While there is certainly value in looking back to see what may have gone wrong and trying to apply the lessons to the future, my experience tells me that the certainty of those in the ‘if only’ crowd is driven more by the need to score cheap political points.
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