The Snickers Bar Theory of the Afghanistan War

An awesomely simple and truthful dissection of OEF-A, from Spencer Ackerman:

Ask yourself this: if there was no such thing as al-Qaida, would we ever fight the Taliban? If your answer is no, you understand where Biden’s coming from. But if your answer is yes, then let us visit the land of delicious candy.


Imagine a Snickers bar. The Taliban are the chocolate. al-Qaida is the precious gooey nougat inside. We care about the nougat. Nothing must get in the way of our pursuit of the nougat. The chocolate is in our way. So much worse for the chocolate.


The trouble with the Afghanistan war is that right now we care too much about the chocolate. You could make an argument that it’s worth caring about the chocolate because it’s better for us if the nougat goes uncovered. I found that compelling for a while, and to a degree still do. But we’re eating too much chocolate in southern Afghanistan; it’s hurting us in eastern Afghanistan; and it pulls us too deeply into the machinations of Afghan governance, which is like eating the wrapper.


Plus we’re finding out something significant in the drone war. We can eat a lot of nougat without eating any chocolate. The problem there (and also in Afghanistan) is that we also destroy innocent peanuts, with which the Taliban and al-Qaida deliberately intermingle. But we have a viable model for a nougat-centric strategy with minimal chocolate distraction. Biden, you’ll recall, pushed that model from the start.


There’s also a diplomatic reason for Biden to say the Taliban aren’t the U.S. enemy. Apparently, secret Taliban peace talks are at a critical juncture. Even if you don’t buy the Snickers Bar Theory of the Afghanistan War — and hey, look: I had to do this before Tom Friedman did — perhaps you’ll agree that we have an interest in ending the war through a peace deal, and if so, then Biden’s comment is useful to that effort. If you don’t agree that we actually do have an interest in a peace deal, then I’m afraid you’re advocating a chocolate-based diet that will lead to clogged American arteries.

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