Wishful Thinking in Afghanistan

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Many good things may come from the death of Osama bin Laden. But the prospect that thousands of Taliban fighters will suddenly lay down their arms seems unlikely to be one of them–despite this hopeful assessment by Maj. Gen. John F. Campbell of the 101st Airborne Division:

[T]he images of Bin Laden living in comfort in a Pakistan safe house may undermine the morale of frontline insurgent fighters, General Campbell said, coming as some insurgent foot soldiers are said to be expressing frustration with their leadership’s commanding from the relative safety of Pakistan.

“I think the insurgents are going to say, ‘Hey, you know, why am I doing this?’ ” he said. “And I think there’s great potential for many of the insurgents to say, ‘Hey, I want to reintegrate.’ ”

The Obama White House has promoted an image of bin Laden lounging comfortably in a “million dollar compound.” And, sure, he wasn’t holed up in a cave. But he clearly wasn’t living “Big Willie style,” either. The video footage of bin Laden watching himself on TV, in particular, depicts a tired old man trapped in a dingy little room. (By the way: The bin Laden fortune wasn’t enough to buy a flat screen?) The Hearst Castle this was not.

More important, precious few Taliban insurgents were fighting for bin Laden to begin with. Most see themselves, as Joe has explained, waging a nationalist war of Pashtun liberation. It seems rather unlikely that substantial numbers would suddenly quit that fight simply because Osama was enjoying satellite TV in his cruddy compound rather than, say, subsisting on bats in some gloomy Waziristan cave.