All right, here's the deal. I 'm paid to point things out that others haven't noticed. Not all the under-examined concepts that fizz out of my contrary-cracked mind prove right or even sane! But I am pretty good at showing that this or that twist should at least be put on the table, and dismissed properly. And so, I'm going to toss something out there. It is far from the most preposterous alternative I've come up with. In fact, this idea should work! Even though it hasn't a prayer of being tried.
Let the Taliban take over Kandahar and parts of Pashtunistan.
Yes, it sounds terrible. Defeatist. Humiliating. Sending exactly the wrong message to our Pakistani quasi-allies and giving the jihadists reason to cheer...
Or would it? Think. When did we do our very best against the Taliban?
During the initial post-9/11 intervention, when they had something to lose. Something that could easily be taken from them. Guerillas are at their best sneaking around in barely more than the clothes on their backs, sniping in target-rich environments. They know that they are absolutely terrible at holding onto discrete, well-defined territory, let alone governing it. Not against a coalition of modern powers.
Now combine this with the following news article from McClatchy (10/16/09): The U.S. military can send only about 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan in the next three months without putting excessive strains on the Army and Marine Corps , but the top Afghanistan commander has said he needs more than twice that number to have the best chance of success, military and administration officials told McClatchy.
Put aside for now the near-treason of a previous administration that left our military in such a state. (When Bill Clinton left office after a fantastically successful Balkans Intervention, every single US brigade was rated "fully combat ready." When Bush left office, NONE were rated even close to fully combat ready.) The significant point here is that we simply haven't the resources to simply "police-down" a wild-ass insurgency in every valley of Afghanistan, also known as "the place that empires go, to die."
So let's try a little thought experiment. Suppose we talked Karzai into "ordering" US and NATO forces out of some well-defined area called Pashtunistan. The Pashtuns are the principal tribe causing trouble in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. A high fraction are fanatically conservative, the ones who want their women wrapped up in burkhas and who banned both music and kite-flying. Suppose Karzai said "I've struck a deal -- limited autonomy for the Taliban in this region, if they'll agree to pull out everywhere else."
Of course the Taliban will agree... and of course they'll intend, first chance, to stab Karzai in the back and resume their campaign. That's given. Only think:
1) During the two month transition, you'll see transfers of population. Fanatics hurrying to Kandahar and moderates moving out. Especially any woman with any sense of pride or self-preservation. Drawing fanatics away from the rest of Afghanistan and Pakistan and concentrating them in a place that finds itself almost without women? Um... what's not to like?
2) The new Pashtunistan will happen to have boundaries that allied forces can seal, at least somewhat. It is arguable that less heroin will escape that way, than currently does, through today's widely-cast net. In any event, trade will be at the mercy of the surrounders, not the surrounded. Moreover, as part of the deal, the radicals will have to first turn over strong points and passes to the Pakistani Army.
3) This turns the civil war into a tribal one. It should cause support for the government to rise everywhere outside Pashtunistan, as Uzbeks and Tajiks and others remember what life was like, before 2002. Especially as Kandahar devolves back into incompetent rule, poverty and sheer nastiness.
(Let the Taliban cry out for donations and help from radicalists in Al Qaeda and the Arab world. Let those funds flow. It won't be enough. Nothing can be enough. Those sources will dry up.)
4) War will resume. It is inevitable. Jihadists cannot grasp satiability. They'll start attacking, again. And, when they do, we can simply take it all away from them again, in a matter of days, fighting on our terms, not theirs, to be greeted as liberators, even by the Pashtuns of Kandahar. Oh, in trying to defend fixed positions, Taliban troops will be at their most vulnerable.
Sure, it's a bit cynical, manipulative and callous... almost like the way the British behaved, during their imperial era. The fig leaf of Karzai ordering this would be essential. But really, when all is said, where are the failure modes? For example, suppose the new Pashtunistan government surprised us by showing competence, skill and restraint, separating from Afghanistan and joining the community of nations. Even if they are hostile to us, tell me how that would be worse than the present situation? In fact, the more they have to lose, the more likely they will fear a repeat of 2002.
Oh, and then there's this. A Taliban entity, sitting once more on the border of Iran? Let the mullahs sweat that out.
All right, this doesn't fit into tidy left-right boxes. Anyway, I despise that metaphor. We need to be idealists, but pragmatic ones who are capable of jiu jitsu, when it seems called for. And, when it comes to Afghanistan, jiu jitsu is always called for.