August 14, 2009

Knowing it when you see it

Stephen Walt on Richard Holbrooke’s promise to tell us what final victory in Afghanistan looks like once he sees it: 

For those of you who worry that the Obama administration doesn’t have a clear strategy in Afghanistan or Pakistan, or even a clear sense of what our overall objectives are: relax. You needn’t fret, because Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke knows how to define success.

Speaking at a panel at the St. Regis Hotel, Holbrooke was asked what success would look like in Afghanistan, and whether U.S. interests could be met with a weak central state, the reintegration of Taliban elements into Afghan politics, and the continuation of Predator strikes against al Qaeda forces in the region. His response, according to Spencer Ackerman, was that while the U.S. had to be “clear about what our national interests are,” ultimately, success would require taking a “Supreme Court test”—“We’ll know it when we see it.” (This is how Justice Potter Stewart defined pornography).

So I guess those elaborate benchmarks the administration has been trying to develop don’t really matter. Holbrooke will just let us know when we’ve won. Or lost. Until then, you critics can stop asking those pesky questions.

It looks to me like we ain’t never gonna leave that place.

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