Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Good News About Afghanistan Ambivalence

The War on Terror, confusing and anxious-making as it may be, has produced one encouraging side effect in American politics: The gung-ho is gone as all sides concede the military effort in Afghanistan is a dangerous enterprise with an unknowable outcome.

As President Obama goes face-to-face with General McChrystal today by tele-conference, the debate over what to do next has been a good deal less rancorous than any other in recent Washington history. "Dithering" has been the harshest accusation against the White House by Congressional Republicans, as the Administration leaks reports of success against Al Qaeda by covert operations.

On PBS, GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss agrees with the Democrats' Carl Levin that "just putting troops out there is not going to guarantee success" and argues for more reliance on the military judgment than Levin is willing to accept, a far different tone than partisan disagreements over the Surge in Iraq.

As wrenching as what's at stake is, it's heartening to see some semblance of sanity in American politics, the disappearance of which Tom Friedman laments today: "Our leaders, even the president, can no longer utter the word 'we' with a straight face. There is no more 'we' in American politics at a time when 'we' have these huge problems."

On the fringes, the overheated rhetoric goes on, from Gore Vidal on the Left expressing disappointment in Obama and predicting "dictatorship soon" to a Republican Congressman calling the President "an enemy of humanity."

In a perverse way, Afghanistan with all of its corruption and complexity is bringing back serious thought to political debate at a time when the substance of issues has been degraded into a 24/7 circus of media slanders.

Granted that self-interest is, as always, involved in both Republican and Democratic reluctance to stake their political futures on either going all in or pulling out of another quagmire in the making, the resulting focus on what's at stake there and how to going about dealing with it is a partial answer to Friedman's worries about "a different kind of American political scene that makes me wonder whether we can seriously discuss political issues any longer and make decisions on the basis of the national interest."

Whatever the outcome of White House deliberations on Afghanistan, they offer the faint hope that maybe "we" can.

4 comments:

Fuzzy Slippers said...

Prose poetry as usual. And an excellent summation of the craziness that has gripped this country and divided us so decisively (but hopefully not permanently).

Holte Ender said...

If the White house decides, enough is enough, and orders the military to pull out, or dramatically reduce our commitment, Obama will be "the cut and run President," or if he goes with a troop increase, he will be chastised from both sides.

party said...

I agree with Holte Ender but every one know troops is a necessity of the war..

Tim said...

Troops are a necessity of war. Let's take a look at what the troops have been able to do in our time in Afghanistan. According to a January 2006 USAID report, here is a short list of some of the positive projects that are underway or completed:

- Over 5,000 kilometers of road were reconstructed
- Over 140 market centers built
- Approximately 1,000 kilometers of canals and irrigation systems constructed
- Installation of telecommunication equipment
- Construction of industrial parks
- Construction of approximately 1,000 schools and health clinics

I'm confident that if you were to hold up the Taliban's or Al Qaeda's scorecards, they would look nothing like this.

While Senators Chambliss and Levin may be right when they say that we should not deploy more troops for the sake of deployment, it's important that "we" take stock of the successes that we have enjoyed over the last several years.

The outcome of all wars is the known unknown at the war's outset. But at this stage in the current fight, we know that the Afgahn people are experiencing a better quality of life on multiple levels. There is no disputing the quantitative facts, from improving irrigation systems so that Afghan citizens can eat to improving the country's education and healthcare systems, members of the Coalition are working to improve the quality of life for all people in Afghanistan. This a task that has never been nor will ever be undertaken by the Taliban or Al Qaeda. Therefore, pulling out of Afghanistan should not even be an option that's discussed.