David E. Sanger: Rethinking the Afghanistan War’s What-Ifs





[David E. Sanger is chief Washington correspondent for the NYT.]

...If only we had not been distracted by Iraq, or averted our eyes from the Taliban’s resurgence, or confronted the realities of Pakistan’s fighting both sides of the war ...

If only....

Just because a strategy is flawed does not mean that another approach would have worked. The British spent a century arguing over whether a lighter hand or devastating military might could have put down the American Revolution. In his memoir “My Early Life,” Winston Churchill raises the same question, obliquely, about Afghanistan in 1897. About a failed effort to subdue the Mamund Valley, on what is now the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, he wrote, “We destroyed the houses, filled up the wells, blew down the towers, cut the reservoirs in punitive devastation.” But the casualties mounted. “Whether it was worth it, I cannot tell.”

It took several decades for the British, then the Soviets, in a different era, to decide that it really wasn’t. President Obama argues Afghanistan is still a “war of necessity.”...



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