So can there be an upside to the apparent downside of deadlines for military and nonmilitary support for Afghanistan?
A U. S. army officer with experience in Iraq and now Afghanistan thinks so. He even believes that deadlines will bring more benefits than harm. "Nothing more quickly brings out the latent capacity [of the Afghan government] than the belief the window of [Western opportunity] will soon be closed," he says.
Sounding a little like Samuel Johnson on the power of imminent hanging to concentrate the mind, the officer says that the withdrawal of military support, or at least much of it, in the summer of 2011 and of generous aid at the end of a 10-15 year span is already motivating the Afghan government.
The question is whether it also motivates the Taliban to keep fighting until the foreign soldiers go and the aid stream dries up. It could, the officer acknowledges. But he also envisions two alternative scenarios, neither of which bodes well for the insurgency.
Scenario One: The Taliban goes relatively quiet and husbands its resources until Western forces withdraw. The problem with that strategy for the insurgents is that it gives Western forces and Kabul a chance to build a modicum of security and economic opportunity that will be attractive to the vast majority of Afghans -- and that will make this majority even more resistant when the Taliban comes out of hiding and tries to destroy it.
Scenario Two: The Taliban steps up its campaign of terror and intimidation. Sure, this strategy keeps the populace in a state of uncertainty. But as Afghans begin to see some of the fruits of stepped-up security and economic development, they also begin to see the Taliban as nothing more than agents of destruction. The Taliban, going this route, may lose the battle for hearts and minds.
The army officer says that neither outcome of those two scenarios is assured. Contingency upsets everybody's best-laid plans. But the view that deadlines are necessarily a boon to the Taliban and a hindrance to the West and Kabul is anything but certain.
-- Jay Tolson