Tuesday, September 01, 2009
WHY WE’RE IN AFGHANISTAN AND WHAT WE SHOULD DO ABOUT IT
By Ivan G. Goldman
There’s no light at the end of the Afghanistan tunnel. In fact, there’s not even a tunnel, just a deep, dark pit. We have no clear mission there, and after eight years of fighting we’re suffering more casualties than ever while the place remains deeply mired in violence and corruption.
A British newspaper recently published an interview with Britain's next military chief Gen. Sir David Richards in which he is quoted as saying that the Afghanistan mission could last up to 40 years. As it stands now, NATO has more than 100,000 troops there, 58.000 of them Americans. Another 10,000 U.S. troops will be added by year end. And those figures are misleadingly low because at last count we had 74,000 military “contractors” in country, most of them performing chores ordinarily done by soldiers.
The painfully slow withdrawal from Iraq (We still have 128,000 troops there) coupled with all those additional forces being injected into Afghanistan means that the same soldiers and Marines are deployed over and over again until they come back in body bags or with pieces missing, burned, or otherwise mutilated. Meanwhile the long, frequent absences wreck the emotional health of service people and their families, engendering divorce, alcoholism, and all the related negative outcomes that go with them.
What’s going on? Barack Obama’s not this stupid, is he? So why is he dumping all these troops down the Afghanistan hole? The answer is both simple and ugly. We’re there because if he pulls out and there’s another attack on the U.S. that approximates 9/11-magnitude, his presidency could be toast. Ever since they lost the 2008 election Republican leaders have made it clear that they’re itching for another successful attack on America so they can use it to win elections. And if such an attack were traced back to Afghanistan in any way after Obama had pulled out, they figure they’d be hitting the trifecta. Meanwhile, they took no responsibility for being in charge on 9-11, but that's how they play the game.
If Republican leaders were civilized patriots, Obama could get them to buy into a joint congressional resolution supported by both parties that would give him cover for withdrawal, leaving only intelligence and police operatives plus special forces teams to harass enemy movement along the Pakistan border. But Republicans have moved too far to the right in the last couple decades to even contemplate pursuing a rational, bipartisan agenda. They’ve politicized prayer, sex, and war, among other things, and rather than pull our troops from a quagmire that threatens to dwarf the Vietnam disaster, they prefer to let them die and possibly provide Republican political dividends.
We can expect General Stanley McChrystal, who’s in charge of both the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, to announce in the coming days or weeks that he’s changing the strategy to one of winning the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese – excuse me, I mean Afghans -- and to pretend that no one’s thought of that before. In fact, unless Obama changes the script, we can expect a succession of U.S. generals and lots of parrot-class commentators to say this for many years to come.
But the enemy has controlled much of the country for years and is well funded by an abundant opium crop that neither U.S. forces nor the Karzai regime has been able to do much about. In fact, Karzai's clique is itself riddled with opium traffickers and people who play both sides. Al Qaeda-born terrorism will be defeated by good intelligence and police work, not a never-ending occupation in a lost, hellish country whose only real talent is for resisting occupation by foreign troops.
But if Obama is truly convinced we must defeat the Taliban on the field of battle then he should involve all of America, not just that tiny sliver represented by military families. He must explain why victory is so important and then immediately re-establish military conscription so we can field a half a million troops in Afghanistan. Only this time the draft mustn’t be rigged to protect the offspring of the rich and powerful.
If he’s unwilling to do all that, he must withdraw, because anything less will fail and it’s crazy to continue sacrificing our troops for domestic political requirements. Just because Republicans pursue a loony agenda that’s no reason to oppose them with the same measure of lunacy.