has told President Obama he needs more troops to do his job properly. News reports say
he will ask for as many as 60,000 additional soldiers. He hasn't submitted his request;
so President Obama doesn't have to ask Congress to approve the idea...yet.
Afghanistan is the "good" war, remember? We invaded Afghanistan to drive
the Taliban out and destroy the al Qaeda camps which acted as a staging ground for the
attack on this country on September 11th. Al Qaeda was driven out and so were the
Taliban (both relocated in Pakistan). We installed a new government under Hamid Karzai
and elections were held. Mission accomplished, right? Wrong!! The Bush administration
allowed Taliban leader Mullah Omar and al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to escape
the caves of Tora Bora. They stripped Afghanistan of troops and essential supplies and
slowly the Taliban began returning. Now, once again, American young men and women
will be asked to fight and die in greater numbers in a foreign land. The question remains:
Why? The Obama administration has yet to answer that question.
Afghanistan raises the same question Obama asked about Iraq. The "Powell
Doctrine" as articulated by former Secretary of State Colin Powell states that military
force should not be used unless there is a definition of what victory means and an exit
strategy articulated. How will we know we have won? When will we know it is time
to pull out? Powell also said military power should not be used unless overwhelming
force is employed. In Iraq, the doctrine was ignored; and to this day no one can tell you
if we won. Our exit strategy still leaves thousands of troops there beyond 2011, the "surge"
accomplished virtually none of its goals, Iraq hasn't solved the problems between Shiites
and Sunnis, nor have they solved the problem of Arabs vs. Kurds. There is no oil revenue
sharing agreement. The Kurds want to be free of the central government. Iraqi security
forces appear to be unable to maintain peace. Civilian deaths in August were the highest
in more than a year. Can anyone define what victory looks like in Iraq?
The story may actually be worse in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is another nation
where tribe is more important than nation; and historically, the scene of violent ethnic
disputes. The Taliban have tribal roots in Afghanistan. Our allies, the Northern Alliance,
are a series of warlords who rule as medieval feudal lords who have refused to cede power
to the central government; and according to the New York Times, some have joined up
with the Taliban to oppose Karzai and his government. The most recent election for
president is in total disarray. Accusations of fraud and vote-tampering are rampant.
If there is a run-off, it might not occur until sometime in 2010. There is no guarantee
the winner will be recognized by the nation as legitimate. Both the Taliban and al Qaeda
enjoy safe haven in Pakistan. They can attack and retreat and NATO forces cannot follow.
They can wait out the harsh winters safe in Pakistan and rebuild and regroup and there
is nothing we can do.
Sixty thousand more troops do not solve any of the problems I have cited. Sixty
thousand more troops will "occupy" Afghanistan much to the consternation of the Afghani's
themselves. The "take and hold" model used in Iraq will ultimately fail in Afghanistan
because our enemies can wait in Pakistan until we leave. Sixty thousand troops will not
end rampant corruption nor will they make Karzai any more appealing. Sixty thousand
troops won't convince tribal warlords, who we armed, to give up their arms and cede power
to the central government in Kabul.
In both Iraq and Afghanistan one of the central questions is why won't they
defend themselves? Iraq's security forces have been training for over six years, yet still
are not adequate to the task. Afghan security forces have had eight years to get up and
running. Why won't they defend their own nation? Why should young Americans die to
defend what the natives refuse to defend? Will sixty thousand more troops increase the
willingness of Afghans to die fighting the Taliban?
The reality is Pakistan and Afghanistan are linked in all of the calculations.
Will 60,000 more troops in Afghanistan convince the Pakistanis to end safe havens for
the Taliban in their nation? Will 60,000 more troops motivate the Pakistani military
to go after bin Laden and Omar? Will 60,000 troops in Afghanistan change the political
climate in Pakistan?
We really have learned nothing from Vietnam. In that war, we saw the same
creeping incrementalism. A few more troops, then a few more, then a lot more, without
ever knowing what the definition of victory would be. In Vietnam, the South Vietnamese
Army was useless and the government corrupt. Americans were told just a few more
soldiers would finally buy victory. This was done at the same time Lyndon Johnson is
heard on tapes telling advisors Vietnam could never be won. Despite his feelings, he
escalated the war for political purposes so Republicans couldn't accuse him of being soft
on communism. President Obama is deathly afraid of being attacked by Republicans for
being soft on terrorism. This troop increase is being driven far more by politics than it is
by military strategy.
Here are the facts which the President doesn't want to face. First, neither he
nor anyone else can tell the American people what victory would look like even if it could
be achieved. Second, neither he nor anyone else can promise that 60,000 more troops
would be enough or whether they might ask for more. Third, neither he nor anyone else
can state what the exit strategy would be and when these Americans would come home.
Fourth, the current government is not sustainable. Fifth, Pakistan and it's policies will
have more impact on this war than will 60,000 more troops. Finally, President Obama
has yet to answer the question Cindy Sheehan first posed to President Bush: "What noble
cause did my son die for in Iraq?" How would President Obama answer a parent who
lost a child in Afghanistan? What did he or she die for? Unless he can give a clear and
convincing answer to that question, the Congress should refuse his request for more troops.
In the end, the Afghans have to fight their own war. In the end, the Pakistanis
must help them. In the end, an occupying force cannot "win", whatever "winning" means.
We can help them, advise them, encourage them, and support them; but we can no longer
give our children to fight for them. What do you think? I welcome your comments and
rebuttals. Please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org