It is still not clear what we are doing in Afghanistan, or why we are there, or what we hope to achieve, as shown by the fact that President Obama still does not have a credible way of measuring success in that country and that a review of the metrics is now underway, as The New York Times reports.
Nevertheless, people do not seem all that bothered by it. Andrew Exum has posted an open letter to his readers, saying that support for the war has dropped off, “especially in progressive circles,” and asks readers for their views on the conflict. And yet the truth is that the war has few high-profile critics: Andrew J. Bacevich, a Boston University history professor and author of The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism
, and Rory Stewart (The Places In Between
) notwithstanding, most public intellectuals are okay with it.
This is partly because there is a new person, Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, in charge of Afghanistan, and he has brought with him a surge of enthusiasm about what can be accomplished. Moreover, large-scale loss of life is apparently acceptable for the American public, so long as things are moving forward. “Americans are ‘defeat-phobic’ rather than ‘casualty-phobic,’” wrote Christopher Gelpi and John Mueller in Foreign Affairs in 2006: “Support for war is determined by the prospects for success rather than casualties.”
So far, relatively few Americans have died in Afghanistan – there have been approximately 460 combat-related deaths. And since it is not clear what the goals are in Afghanistan, there is no reason to think we are not meeting them. The metrics will change over time, however, and the Lexapro-like calm about the war is unlikely to last.