BY TAYLOR MARSH

...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 thinks. Many agree with this assessment. I'm just not one of them, as I've stated many times, regardless of my realist foundation, 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.

WHY WE MAY BE LOSING IN AFGHANISTAN.
"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."

WHAT NATO IS STILL GOOD FOR.
"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.