photo: wiki commons
For a split second I thought I was listening to George W. Bush and not Barack Obama talking about sending in more troops based upon the advice of his military leaders. And then there’s the “exit plan” to start bringing our troops home after 18 months and getting them home when? When the transfer of responsibility for securing the country can be completed? And when might that be? Is that what he said? Or did he mean something else? Will the withdrawl be completed while Mr. Obama is still in office?
It’s exactly the kind of open-ended non-decision decision I would have expected from the Bush Administration. It was a speech that undoubtedly left any number of progressives and moderates walking around in a politically induced stupor while they try and sort out exactly what happened.
I’ll tell you what happened. Mr. Obama has decided to send additional troops to Afghanistan, an area where apparently, the al Qaeda is not. There are estimates that around 300 members of al Qaeda are in Pakistan, not Afghanistan. Others, are scattered globally. It’s an international criminal conspiracy, not an army. Mr. Obama, could have decided to attack the problem both overtly and covertly, using the CIA, the FBI and every bit of law enforcement and military intelligence cooperation he could garner from any nation willing to offer support including the government of Pakistan.
Instead, he has done exactly what George W. Bush would have done. After asking the Pentagon for advice, he continues to do what? Eliminate the al Qaeda by attacking the Taliban in Afghanistan? We already defeated the al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Under the Bush Administration, we drove them back into Tora Bora and then let them slip across the border into Pakistan. Not Mr. Obama’s fault. Anyway, that still leaves the Taliban and the question of the ongoing stability of Afghanistan. It’s another mess the Bush Administration left for Mr. Obama to clean up. However, we cannot kill every member of the Taliban. They will still be there once we withdraw. It is highly unlikely that another 30,000 troops for another couple of years will secure a nation that has been in an almost constant state of civil war for the past 40 years. Defeating the Taliban in any conventional sense is highly unlikely, regardless of General McChrystal’s assessment.
Generals, are trained to win wars, not calculate the geopolitical complexities involved in attacking an international criminal enterprise. Beyond that, unless you consider nuking the Middle East to be a viable option, the situation no longer calls for a strictly military solution. JFK, had to turn a deaf ear to his generals and take on the Joint Chiefs during the Cuban missile crisis to prevent a nuclear war. The decision lies with the President, not the Pentagon.
And now, after taking General McCrystal’s advice, the President is sending another 30,000 troops to a place where the al Qaeda is not. A place governed by a corrupt puppet government being propped up by our presence, not unlike the puppet governments we propped up in Vietnam. And he is directing this massive effort at an area driven by the economics of the heroin trade and ruled by warlords who will side with whomever they believe will provide them with the greatest advantage from one moment to the next? Are you kidding? We move in and they back off and pretend to play by our rules. We leave, and they return to play by their own rules. They’ve been playing this game for hundreds of years.
The President could have announced that after 8 years, we’ve done what we went into Afghanistan to do. Without tipping our hand and laying out any timetable, we could have started the process of bringing our troops home and turning the responsibility of securing Afghanistan over to the Afghans. If Hamid Karzai wants the country, let him have it. The far right would have condemned the move but the far right isn’t going to be satisfied with anything Mr. Obama does. It’s time to forget about the far right and think about the American majority, those millions of people who are less concerned with Afghanistan than with putting food on their tables and the availability of affordable health care.
As things now stand, Mr. Obama has chosen a course of action that will require billions of additional dollars and untold numbers of American lives. Yes, the al Qaedal will probably slip back into Afghanistan once we leave. So what? Are we prepared to make the kind of commitment the British made in India and leave our military in place until the region becomes stable? You know, a commitment of say…the next 90 years and maybe longer?
Instead of bringing the troops home and stopping the flow of dollars into an unwinnable war, Mr. Obama and his party will now be heading into 2010 facing the prospect of more American lives lost abroad and fewer jobs created here at home. It appears to be a “lose-lose” scenario for both the country and the Democratic Party.
The other possibility is that the President struck precisely the right balance by upholding our national responsibility to the Afghans. It could be argued that we had to beat back the Taliban long enough to give the Afghan Government ample time to beef up their security to the degree that they can maintain control once we leave. This way, in 18 months we can begin the withdrawal and nobody can say we “cut and ran.” Except for the far right. There is nothing Mr. Obama can do that will satisfy them. Either way, it’s a very high price to pay for image control and the Democrats may be in trouble as they head into the mid-term elections.