Lance Cpl. James Purschwitz/United States Marine Corps
This post is part of an ongoing series preparing for the AEI/CNN/Heritage National Security & Foreign Policy GOP presidential debate on November 22nd.
An unfortunate aspect of national discourse on Afghanistan—with its emphasis on withdrawal dates and body counts—has been a loss of focus on how South Asia fits more broadly into the wider Asian region and beyond. This means measuring U.S. actions in South Asia against two broader yardsticks: their impact on the spread of radical Islam and on hegemonic Chinese ambitions in Asia.
This is not to suggest that we should not care about Afghanistan and Pakistan for their own sake. The twin goals of ensuring that Afghanistan does not once again become a haven for al Qaeda and that Pakistan does not allow its nuclear weapons to slip into jihadist hands, remain pressing. But these aren’t the only reasons for a strong and enduring U.S. presence in the region.
Sending the kind of signal in Afghanistan that is being sent in Iraq with the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops will only strengthen the hands of those who wish America ill. For radical Islamists from the Palestinian territories to the southern Philippines it will be interpreted simply: “Our side is winning.” For China and its grab bag of despotic allies, it will confirm a longed-for narrative of American decline. In India, rapidly emerging as a global economic power, it will strengthen the hands of those who would like New Delhi to keep its distance from Washington’s embrace.
In short, success in Afghanistan is about much more than Afghanistan. It’s an obvious point, but sometimes the most obvious things bear repeating.
Sadanand Dhume is a resident fellow at AEI