WASHINGTON-The Taliban is growing in power in certain Afghan cities like Kandahar, the results of the recent presidential election are in question, corruption is overwhelming efforts at good governance, and the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff has recommended more troops beyond the surge President Obama has already ordered.
Politicians on Capitol Hill are asking themselves a lot of existential questions about the future of Afghanistan, as U.S. involvement in the war becomes increasingly unpopular among Americans. A recent CNN poll shows support for the war among Americans at an all-time low: 58 percent are opposed to it. According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, only 26 percent of Americans back an increase in troop levels. Democrats on the Hill-like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Armed Services chair Carl Levin, and defense spending hawk Rep. John Murtha-have all expressed aversions to sending more troops.
Is the military the proper arm to be pursuing a mission that relies on development as much as security? Are more troops the solution? Can any development happen without security first? How will any development be sustainable in a country that has been poor and underdeveloped for many decades?
"We have traveled this journey for seven years without a strategy," asserted Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., chairing a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Thursday.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who is overseeing the U.S.'s operations in Afghanistan, has so far not asked the president for more troops. Defense Secretary Robert Gates hasn't made that request yet, either. McChrystal will present a status report to Congress next Thursday.
The Foreign Relations Committee had requested the current administration's power players in Afghanistan to testify, but the invitations were declined. Gen. John Craddock, who just retired as NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe, was among those who testified instead.
"My sense is we're losing our allies' enthusiasm for this effort," Kerry commented to Craddock. "I think essentially we're going to kind of be on our own here."
"I think that's a fair assessment from a military perspective," Craddock responded.
"Do they know something we don't know?" Kerry returned.
"In Europe, terrorism is viewed as a police issue," Craddock said. "The military does not usually deal with terrorism."
So without much allied support, some politicians see U.S. troops as the last line of defense for a country in desperate need of stability. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) composed an op-ed this week in The Wall Street Journal calling for politicians to raise troop levels in Afghanistan-despite the unpopularity of such a decision.
"Our problems in Afghanistan are not because the Taliban are invincible or popular. They are neither," they wrote. "Rather, our problems result from what was, for years, a mismanaged and underresourced war. . . . More troops will not guarantee success in Afghanistan, but a failure to send them is a guarantee of failure."
At Fortune's Most Powerful Women conference this week, former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice said about Afghanistan: "If we lose patience as a country, we're going to pay for it."