Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Afghanistan - No Longer the Good War

With all that is going on domestically in the US with health care reform and a dismal economy commanding so much of our attention, it is easy to forget about the wars we are still fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. But although Iraq is (hopefully) winding down with our troop withdrawals, there is still the war over in Afghanistan that is growing. But that was seen to be OK. After all the thinking goes, once the diversion of the Iraq War ends we can put more resources into fighting the good war in Afghanistan we should have concentrated on from the beginning.

But clearly as we get more involved in Afghanistan, many are starting to question whether we should still be there. Many now openly wonder
Could Afghanistan Become Obama's Vietnam?

(Mr. Obama) looks ahead to an uncertain future not only for his legislative agenda but for what has indisputably become his war. Last week’s elections in Afghanistan played out at the same time as the debate over health care heated up in Washington, producing one of those split-screen moments that could not help but remind some of Mr. Johnson’s struggles to build a Great Society while fighting in Vietnam.

But is Afghanistan still the good war? At one time, that was easy to decide. The Iraq War was the bad war. After all Iraq, didn’t attack us and didn’t have Weapons of Mass Destruction. On the other hand the Afghanistan War was the good war. After all, Osama bin Laden and Al Queda who did attack us were based in Afghanistan. All we had to do was find and kill bin Laden, wipe out Al Queda, and then come home.

However, it has turned out to be far more complicated than that. When we first invaded back in 2001 in response to 9/11, we not only had to deal with one Islamic fundamentalist group in Al Queda but also another one in the Taliban who at the time had control of the Afghan government. Our removing the Taliban from power was seen as a good thing because of their extreme
restrictions on personal freedom and abhorrent treatment of women.

But just like in Iraq when we toppled Saddam Hussein, there was no real government leadership to fill the void in Afghanistan when we toppled the Taliban. Just like in Iraq, the democratically elected government in Afghanistan has proven to be weak and corrupt. Many feel that Afghanistan with its history of tribal alliances instead of a strong central government may well be ungovernable. Even so, our principal mission there has now become nation building which has become a thankless if not a hopeless task. And Osama bin Laden is still at large.

Even worse, the Taliban has come back stronger than ever as an insurgency movement fighting not only the Afghan government but that of Pakistan too. And Pakistan has a nuclear arsenal to counter the one that their arch-rival India has. What if the Taliban or Al Queda ever got a hold of those weapons? It’s a terrifying thought!

Indeed the Taliban has become so effective that the
U.S. Military Says Its Force in Afghanistan is Insufficient.

American military commanders with the NATO mission in Afghanistan told President Obama’s chief envoy to the region this weekend that they did not have enough troops to do their job, pushed past their limit by Taliban rebels who operate across borders.

The possibility that more troops will be needed in Afghanistan presents the Obama administration with another problem in dealing with a nearly eight-year war that has lost popularity at home, compounded by new questions over the credibility of the Afghan government, which has just held an as-yet inconclusive presidential election beset by complaints of fraud.
This has all produced a most difficult dilemma for the Obama administration. On one hand, the president can make a case that staying in Afghanistan is necessary to keep the region from becoming dangerously unstable in the hands of the Taliban. But on the other hand, this war can drag on indefinitely with increasing casualties and no real progress or end in sight — a bad war by almost anybody’s definition.

In Afghanistan, the Choice is Ours by Richard N. Haass is an excellent op-ed article that outlines this dilemma facing the president. The following passage is especially noteworthy:

The risk of ending our military effort in Afghanistan is that Kabul could be overrun and the government might fall. The risk of the current approach (or even one that involves dispatching another 10,000 or 20,000 American soldiers, as the president appears likely to do) is that it might produce the same result in the end, but at a higher human, military and economic cost.
So the important question to ask is not whether withdrawing would be bad but whether staying would only delay the inevitable. We need to ask the hard questions as to whether this war is truly winnable. And if the answer as many of us suspect is no, then it may well be time to leave Afghanistan to its fate just like we did with South Vietnam when we finally accepted that it too was an unwinnable war. After eight years of war there, it is time to finally bring our troops home. Instead of getting bogged down with unsolvable problems abroad, we need to put our full efforts into solving the considerable problems we face right here at home!

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