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Measure Progress the Right Way

Author: Daniel S. Markey, Adjunct Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia
July 26, 2009
The Des Moines Register


Ever since the White House announced plans to deploy more troops to Afghanistan, anti-war critics have emphatically dismissed the war as a bloody quagmire, a graveyard of empires, or a distraction from greater strategic threats now situated across the border in Pakistan. A summer of intense fighting is steadily raising the ferocity--and the stakes--of this debate.

Yet if the recent experience of the U.S. surge in Iraq is any indication, U.S. policies in Afghanistan will be determined by trends on the ground -- or at least the public's perception of these trends - more than by any grand strategic, ideological or historically-informed arguments.

Acutely sensitive to the fragility of the political coalition supporting its mission in Afghanistan, the White House has placed a bet that more troops, more money and an energized counterinsurgency strategy can turn the tide against the Taliban and set Kabul on a path to sustainable security and governance within the next 12 months. If successful, President Barack Obama's Afghan surge will yield the positive momentum necessary to justify a continued commitment in Kabul.

How then should Americans judge whether the Obama administration's bet is paying off? Smart observers should begin by avoiding three common pitfalls.

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