Afghan President Hamid Karzai is in Washington this week attempting to mend fences with the Obama administration, but Fouad Ajami, for one, isn’t buying it. In an interview released yesterday on the National Review website, Ajami — the neoconservative-aligned Middle East scholar best known as one of the intellectual godfathers of the Iraq war — offered a startlingly pessimistic take on the war in Afghanistan. While Ajami’s claims largely reitereated those of other critics of the Afghan war, the source if nothing else makes them noteworthy.
Calling Karzai a “bandit” who “has no interest in assuming the burden of governing Afghanistan,” Ajami stated that the bleakly pessimistic November 2009 memo by U.S. ambassador Karl Eikenberry arguing against a troop surge was “completely on the mark”. He went on to argue that “the Afghanistan campaign can’t be won,” that “there’s nothing to be gained in Afghanistan,” and that the notion of Afghanistan as the “central front” in the war on terror is a myth.
“Look, I was a hawk on the Iraq war, and I didn’t question the Iraq war,” Ajami said. “I haven’t really written much on Afghanistan by way of criticism…but I have dark thoughts about Afghanistan and whether Afghanistan is worth American blood and American treasure.”
His interviewer, former Reagan speechwriter Peter Robinson, was clearly expecting something more upbeat and seemed taken aback by Ajami’s criticisms of the war. “Well, I didn’t expect you to be quite so grim about it,” Robinson muttered in response, before asking whether Ajami felt that the recent commitment of 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan was worth it. Ajami didn’t answer the question directly, but clearly indicated a negative answer, concluding of the war that “it just doesn’t end well.”
Ajami’s blunt attack on the war is particularly interesting given his close connections to the neoconservatives who were the strongest advocates of the recent troop surge. Indeed, if one were to rank the Arabists with the greatest influence on neoconservative thinking about the Middle East, Ajami would likely be second only to Bernard Lewis. Does this influence mean that his criticisms will receive a respectful hearing on the right? Or will he receive the same treatment as previous right-wing critics of the war like George Will, whose September 2009 call for the U.S. to “get out of Afghanistan” brought forth a series of vicious attacks from the neocons alleging cowardice and appeasement? (Peter Wehner’s jab that Will’s column “could have been written in Japanese aboard the USS Missouri” was par for the course.) Perhaps the most likely outcome is that Ajami’s inconvenient criticisms will simply be ignored altogether.