Thursday, October 29, 2009

Why Are We Still in Afghanistan?

Yes, yes, to fight the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11. But eight years later, American blood and treasure are still being poured into a country of dirt-poor, illiterate people who support themselves by growing poppy for opium and heroin under one of the most corrupt governments in the world.

As Barack Obama makes a midnight visit to honor the incoming dead and console their families, critics may sneer at his theatricality, but the President seems to be trying to clear his head and heart of the numbers and jargon that have dominated months of discussion about whether or not to send up to44,000 more troops to do what those who are now dying there in record numbers have been unable to do.

During the Bush years, despite pockets of fierce opposition, the American mindset was dominated by a Neo-Con vision, unleashed by the trauma of 9/11, of a superpower with "a Reaganite policy of military strength and moral clarity."

That led us into Afghanistan and then Iraq, where the blood still flows in factional fighting, and now the pressure persists on a President elected with a far different vision to stay on that course at the risk of being accused of dithering and defeatism.

At home on the economy, Barack Obama has been forced into pushing for Change on an unprecedented, unsettling scale, but polling shows the American people slowly overcoming their doubts.

How would they react to a daring Change in foreign policy? What would happen if, instead of escalating troop levels, the US took a different approach? Tom Friedman suggests one possibility:

"Yes, the morning after we shrink down in Afghanistan, the Taliban will celebrate, Pakistan will quake and bin Laden will issue an exultant video.

"And the morning after the morning after, the Taliban factions will start fighting each other, the Pakistani Army will have to destroy their Taliban, or be destroyed by them, Afghanistan’s warlords will carve up the country, and, if bin Laden comes out of his cave, he’ll get zapped by a drone."

This may be as wishful as the Neo-Con faith in nation-building in Afghanistan and Pakistan that has cost Americans so much and produced so little, but it deserves as serious consideration as what Friedman describes as the result of their alternative: "China, Russia and Al Qaeda all love the idea of America doing a long, slow bleed in Afghanistan."

Those are the choices Obama is facing.


jf said...

On last Tuesday's Diane Rehm show, McClatchy Pentagon correspondant Nancy Youssef and Tom Ricks couldn't agree on whether or not the Afghan people wanted the U.S. out of their country. Yousseff said "probably not," Ricks wasn't sure.

That settled the issue for me. If we don't have strong support from the Afghan people, if I'm Obama, we're out of there.

Aloha on a steel guitar.

Blakenator said...

I don't mind your theft of Friedmans's idea but I wish you had polished it a little bit. The conclusion is symptomatic of the world view that seems to permeate our "elite." How does Al Qaeda get top billing with China and Russia? An honest appraisal of them is they are a ragtag bunch of troublemakers who got lucky but somehow they are the bogey men hiding under our collective bed. This "slow bleed" is self induced and followed exactly the prediction Bin Laden made when he got his lucky strike. Why do we assign "enemy" status to countries that are capable of competing with us? BTW, China could take us down economically at any time but there is no reason for them to kill their best customer.

Anonymous said...

Right on! We are bleeding to death and Obama's job is to stop the bleeding, even if it makes a bunch of neo-cons hold their breath until they turn blue.

Holte Ender said...

His early morning visit to honor the incoming coffins, was a clear indication Obama is considering a major change in policy. Boy do we need one. Friedman is right, the morning after the morning after, thinking will change.

Fuzzy Slippers said...

Wow, Mr. Stein, this is one meaty post. I'm a little startled by your description of the Afghan people; it's rather disparaging and sort of mean (but I adore you, so I'll not get too upset about it).

We would not still be in Afghanistan if dems would simply approve troops and funding to finish up and get out of there. It's not really a brain-buster.