Anxiety on Afghanistan in General McKiernan, Senator Kerry, and Others a Worrisome Sign

Obama sending 17,000 more troops to a country with a history of breaking empires.

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By John Aloysius Farrell, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Hey, Rob. I agree. President Obama's decision to add another 17,000 troops to the allied forces in Afghanistan—with perhaps another 10,000 to 12,000 to follow later this year—is the big dog that ain't barking here in Washington this week.

Certainly the Afghan escalation (I don't think "surges" last five years, do they?) was necessarily overshadowed by the immediate twists of the economic crisis.

And unless Team Audacity chooses to do so (and given the way they slipped the bill under our door on Tuesday, I would bet against it) the Afghan buildup is likely to be eclipsed next week as well, by the budget and the Big Speech That Is Technically Not the State of the Union Address.

But I am struck by the level of concern I'm encountering as I cover foreign policy for GlobalPost.

I spent a day recently with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where John Kerry dropped the inquisition-type style of Senate hearings in favor of a roundtable that had the witnesses intermingling, and sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with the senators—the better to create a dialogue.

(Note to New Yorkers: Your new senator impressed. Go Green.)

And yesterday I dropped by the American Enterprise Institute, where the neo-cons were gathered in a panel called "Afghanistan at the Brink."

What struck me was 1) the degree of unanimity in each camp that the United States needs to drop the seek-and-kill strategy it has been employing in favor of a robust counterinsurgency program, as outlined by General McKiernan at the Pentagon yesterday, and 2) the shared degree of anxiety.

The far Left may be worried that Audacity will go too far and get us bogged down in "Obama's Vietnam," and the far Right may be worried that he's determined to cut and run under the protective guise of the ongoing "strategic review."

But the Middle seems a lot more worried that we're losing.

Or, as McKiernan put it yesterday, are now facing "a stalemate, at best" in southern Afghanistan.

This could be a modest surge in peacekeeping forces, with a modest jump in casualties—or we could be talking History here. Afghanistan has a way of eating empires.

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