…and so it begins
to begin

Marine Corps leaders are devising a plan to send thousands of additional
combat troops to Afghanistan to wage aggressive warfare against the Taliban
that they expect could take years.

The Marines would like to deploy more than 15,000 troops if Defense Secretary
Robert M. Gates and Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, newly named head of the U.S.
Central Command, approve. About 2,300 Marines have already been sent to Afghanistan
to replace units from Twentynine Palms, Calif., and Camp Lejeune, N.C., that
are returning home after eight months.

Over the weekend, President-elect Obama phoned Afghanistan’s Karzai to pledge
troops and aid to fight militants in his country. It’s exactly what is needed.

The upper echelons of the Marines, according to many reports, are quite keen
on bringing the fight to that country, with some willing to reenlist if that
would be their field of battle. Police keeping just isn’t their style. The prospect
of combat driving them; what some officers would call “living the dream.”

The reality of a limited troop increase in Afghanistan is quite a point of debate
among progressive national security thinkers. Some preferring to take the
road explained yesterday
by Rory Stewart, a former British Foreign Service
officer. It begins: Afghanistan does not matter as much as Barack Obama
Many agree with this assessment. I’m just not one of them, as I’ve
stated many times, regardless of my realist
, which is pragmatic, non-ideological and non interventionist, Afghanistan is where I differ
from many other progressives.

[…] Mr. Scowcroft, who stayed neutral in this year’s presidential campaign,
is a prominent advocate of a “realist” approach to foreign policy
that favors deal-making over the ideological commitments the second Bush administration
was known for.

“He said before the war that this is a war of choice that we shouldn’t
be engaged in. I think that has resonated with Obama,” said Amy Zegart,
a public-policy professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who
served as an adviser on national-security matters to Mr. Bush’s 2000 campaign.

Obama’s likely national security advisor, Gen. Jim Jones, reflects my viewpoint,
in the specific, including the question of redefining NATO’s place in the 21st
century. The following insight from Jones was offered among exit interview
excerpts from Condoleezza Rice in The New York Times

“I think the first thing the next president will have to do is understand
that Afghanistan is now part of a regional problem. Maybe four or five years
ago it was about Afghanistan, but now it’s about Afghanistan and Pakistan,
and you can’t deal with one without dealing with the other. So there
is a regional aspect to this that I think we have to deal with. Secondly,
I think it’s important for people to understand that Afghanistan is
an international problem. It’s not a U.S. problem alone, as opposed
to Iraq. . . . The U.N. is there; NATO is there; the E.U. is there; the World
Bank is there; all the N.G.O.’s in the world; around 50 countries. So
the question is with all of this capability there, why do we have the sense
that we’re backsliding? The top of my list is the drugs and narcotics,
which are, without question, the economic engine that fuels the resurgent
Taliban, and the crime and corruption in the country. . . . We couldn’t
even talk about that in 2006 when I was there. That was not a topic that anybody
wanted to talk about, including the U.S.”

“I think if NATO members draw the conclusion that they shouldn’t
have been here in Afghanistan, and we’re not going to do this again,
then I think the purpose of NATO in the 21st century will very quickly be
called into question. I think that most of them do understand that for NATO
to survive as an institution in the 21st century, they need to start thinking
about a new strategic concept. . . . Unfortunately NATO’s mission is
still rooted in the 20th-century, cold-war model of a defensive, static, reactive
alliance instead of agile, flexible and proactive 21st-century reality.”

Afghanistan is a cog in the wheel regarding Pakistan, but also India, as both
countries fight for dominance in Afghanistan. If you weigh in China’s influence
going forward, these countries are all interconnected, which is why Bush’s newfound
relationship with India has made Pakistanis a bit nervous. They’re already worried
that India is gaining too much ground in Afghanistan. The ISI’s link to the Indian Embassy bombings in Afghanistan just one reaction. Allowing Afghanistan to
go down is not in the region’s best interest, but certainly isn’t in NATO’s,
though redefining their role has yet to be done. Understanding that the U.S. is not in Afghanistan alone, but one among many
nations with an interest in helping Afghans help themselves, which in the end is the only answer.

But pledging troops to aid in the fight against militants does not mean an
Iraq like surge strategy. Fortifying city by city, stabilizing them can only
happen through building a stronger Afghan national security apparatus that is
administered through its people. Because the
world cannot make stable a country without its people taking the lead. This
is especially true in this part of the world, where xenophobia towards invaders
is real, as is success against them.

But what Bush began after 9/11 has been left to fall apart, with Obama inheriting
this mess. The reality is that the world has no interest in Afghanistan reverting back
to a failed state, however uncomfortable the thought of limited troop
expansion leaves some progressives.