I think the key point on Thursday was made by Ron. How much is it worth to us to keep Afghanistan from becoming a “base” for Al-Qaeda? What is a base anyway, and could we prevent one from being established an easier way than long-term, bloody nation-building in the most un-built nation on the face of the earth?
Here’s the opinion of a retired countrtterrorism expert (not the cable news kind, many of whom seem to have more opinions than experience). He says that having a haven in Afghan does not increase AQ’s ability to attack the U.S. homeland nearly as much as most of the media assumes.
Also, I’d add that we should keep in mind that the new pessimism towards Afghanistan is based on new developments inside that country, not on new U.S. political dynamics (new president). The CIA concluded in 2008 that our whole mission in Afghanistan is veering towards total, catastrophic failure. Plus, their presidential election this year was a sham and Karzai is losing legitimacy hand over fist. We may have another Diem on our hands.
Finally, like I said on Thursday, we have more than just 2 options: double down or run away, Monty-Python style. We could keep a residual force focused on counterterrorism, etc.