The new focus

With the war in Iraq on the downswing, with troop withdrawals planned and greater stability of the government there, focus is rightly shifting back to Afghanistan, the original battlefield in the broader War on Terrorism and, along with Pakistan perhaps, still its grayest area; the renewed focus has generated an interesting amount of debate about what America's role is there.

Sitting down with the Post-Crescent this week, Senator Russ Feingold jumped on the "timeline" bandwagon, disappointingly urging the US to set a date for withdrawal and work toward that goal.

He actually makes an important argument, one that has unfortunately not been given enough of an airing since the Taliban advances in Pakistan: that is, the intermeshing of Afghanistan and Pakistan in fighting the Taliban. Feingold argues that keeping soldiers in Afghanistan takes focus away from Pakistan:
"And of course Pakistan is where a witches’ brew of every kind of nightmare comes together in a nuclear country and I think it’s not a very well-thought-out strategy," Feingold said.

He's right to worry that insurgent victories in Pakistan destabilize one of the newest members of the nuclear club, but I think he's off the mark, and this article over at Registan.net begins a series that promises to lay out a case for remaining in Afghanistan, and one dig seems especially apropos of Feingold's position:
When the nation’s top military officer continues to insist on teevee that al Qaeda is still capable of striking the U.S., that carries tremendous import, and building the case that even another 9/11 is an acceptable risk requires a sophistication of argument—exhaustive, comprehensive, meticulous—that simply is not evident in the "withdraw now" folks. In other words, they need to build an air tight case, which hasn’t happened yet.

The calls from the left during the previous administration to set a timeline for Iraq, rather than focusing on measurable achievements toward stability, would have meant a withdrawal from that country before it was ready. I fear the same is true for Afghanistan; leaving that instability on the border of Pakistan is a much greater long-term threat than leaving instability in Iraq.