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Can we win in Afghanistan? I’m not asking whether Petraeus will be able to take over from McChrystal without disrupting our operations on the ground or whether the Obama administration will give Petraeus the troops and the time he needs. Even if the transition from McChrystal to Petraeus goes flawlessly and the administration, by some miracle, decides to pursue an unambiguous victory, can we win?
As he insisted on our podcast last week, Victor Davis Hanson believes we can. Yet as he told me on a recent episode of Uncommon Knowledge, and as he argues again in today’s Wall Street Journal (subscription required), Fouad Ajami believes we cannot.
[C]ounterinsurgency [Ajami writes in the Wall Street Journal] requires a native regime that would hold its own against insurgents and defend its own homeland. No serious assessment holds out the promise of a capable Afghan regime and a devoted national army that would fight for the incumbent government. Afghanistan is what it is, a land riven by corruption and sectarianism, a population weighed down by illiteracy and hardened by years of betrayal and abdication. The “Afghanization” of the war is a utopian idea.
Victor and Fouad represent two of the most important–that is, two of the most articulate, determined, and knowledgeable–supporters of the war in Iraq. They’re friends. They’re patriots. They possess a deep understanding of the history and mores of the Middle East and Central Asia. As the debate on Afghanistan unfolds, we’ll learn virtually everything we need to know to make up our own minds by watching these two men disagree.