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The 'Should We Stay or Should We Go?' Matrix

Where our top opinion-makers stand on the Afghanistan question.

Created by Ben Bernstein, Noah Kristula-Green, Julie Sobel, and Barron YoungSmith

(Click here to see a full-sized version of the matrix.)

1. Howard Dean: The former DNC chairman, who opposed the war in Iraq, is an Afghanistan hawk for national security and humanitarian (women's rights) reasons. He believes that "we can win this war militarily."

2. Bruce Riedel: The Brookings fellow, who coordinated the Obama administration's initial review of Afghanistan policy, supports a robust counterinsurgency. He has warned that a limited mission would empower Al Qaeda and the Taliban, fueling the perception that the United States is again ready to "cut and run."

3. Stanley McChrystal: Obama's general in Afghanistan has requested between 40,000 and 80,000 more troops in order to pursue a robust counterinsurgency strategy. Without them, he warned, the war “will likely result in failure.”

4. Fred Kagan: The conservative military theorist and author of the "surge" strategy in Iraq has written in favor of McChrystal's approach in Afghanistan, arguing that it will improve the situation in Pakistan, as well: "Can well-designed and properly-resourced operations succeed? There are no guarantees in war, but there is good reason to think they can."

5. Steve Coll: The journalist and head of the New America Foundation wrote a piece for Foreign Policy magazine titled "The Case for Humility in Afghanistan," in which he recommended that Obama "persist with the difficult effort to stabilize Afghanistan and reverse the Taliban's momentum. This will probably require additional troops for a period of several years, until Afghan forces can play the leading role."

6. Hillary Clinton: The secretary of state has been circumspect about her views on Afghanistan, but many observers believe she favors a troop increase. Last month, she told CNN that "Afghanistan has been under-sourced from the beginning. … We've never had the kind of military or civilian commitment that our mission had, you know, been needing."

7. David Brooks: The center-right columnist has argued in support of McChrystal’s troop request, calling the pursuit of a counterinsurgency strategy "imperative"—though, in theory, he opposes a troop increase unless Obama plans to see the effort through to the end. "If the president cannot find that core conviction, we should get out now. It would be shameful to deploy more troops only to withdraw them later."

8. Robert Gates: While initially skeptical of a larger footprint, the defense secretary has indicated that he considers the mission in Afghanistan important enough to warrant troop increases.

9. Fred Kaplan: The center-left military historian thinks Obama should take a “middle way” approach by pursuing the McChrystal strategy, but with fewer troops.

10. Joe Biden: Biden, according to The New York Times, "does not favor abandoning Afghanistan, but his approach would reject the additional troops sought by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal and leave the American force in Afghanistan roughly the same, 68,000 troops."

11. Rory Stewart: The British Tory writer has argued that we should "muddle through" by reducing troop levels to 20,000 and adopting a counter-terrorism strategy. "[T]hose pushing for an expansion of our military presence there are wrong. We don't need bold new plans and billions more in aid. Instead, we need less investment—but a greater focus on what we know how to do."

12. Andrew C. McCarthy: The conservative National Review columnist considers McChrystal's strategy a frivolous attempt at nation-building. "We have only one military mission in Afghanistan, and it is not to protect the Afghan population," McCarthy writes. "A well-meaning social experiment masquerading as a counterinsurgency … is not a good reason to have any troops in Afghanistan, much less to send in 40,000 more."

13. John Kerry: The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has argued that McChrystal's plan "reaches too far, too fast." According to Kerry, "We have already begun implementing a counterinsurgency strategy—but I believe that right now it needs to be as narrowly focused as possible."

14. Thomas Friedman: The center-left columnist recently came out against a troop buildup, arguing we need to “reduce our footprint.”

15. Pete Hoekstra and John Shadegg: In a Washington Times op-ed, the conservative congressmen argued that Obama's interrogation policy, and his decision to scale back NATO air strikes, have undermined the war effort. "Given these conditions, can we support keeping American military men and women in Afghanistan? The answer is no. If the Obama administration's priority isn't providing our troops with the tools to do the job and win, we shouldn't be there."

16. Nicholas Kristof: The liberal columnist recently wrote in a New York Times op-ed that “dispatching more troops to Afghanistan would be a monumental bet and probably a bad one, most likely a waste of lives and resources that might simply empower the Taliban.” Instead, he wants to improve the country by spending more money on education.

17. Carl Levin: The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee opposes sending more troops to Afghanistan at this time, arguing that "expansion of our own combat presence could feed a Taliban propaganda machine." Instead of a troop surge, he prefers a mission focused on training Afghan police and security forces.

18. Matthew Hoh: The high-ranking foreign service officer resigned from his Afghanistan post in late October, writing that "I fail to see the value or the worth in continued U.S. casualties or expenditures of resources in support of the Afghan government in what is truly a 35-year civil war."

19. Andrew Bacevich: The realist military scholar argues that accepting McChrystal's request "will void [Obama's] promise of change at least so far as national security policy is concerned." Bacevich would prefer that Obama "start withdrawing [U.S. troops] and devise a more realistic—and more affordable—strategy for Afghanistan."

20. George F. Will: The conservative columnist was one of the first to advocate withdrawal, writing that "America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent Special Forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters."