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.