Saturday, December 5, 2009

Waging the Afghan War

I've been silent thus far on Obama's decision to send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, mostly because I waiver on this war so frequently. Despite voting for the man, I find myself disagreeing with Obama frequently, but this is not one of those occasions.

I think he made the right decision, but no one seems happy with it. The Right doesn't think the commitment is enough, and the Left thinks it's time to end this whole thing. On this particular issue, Obama's middle ground stance seems to be the best approach.

The most common argument I've heard from the Right is that a president should "listen to his generals." Listen, yes; obey, no. Generals have a great deal of expertise, but the military component is not all that goes into a decision like this.

Americans cannot economically or emotionally handle a drastic troop increase. The current increase would cost about $1 trillion over the next decade, and during a time of 10% plus unemployment, nobody likes to see that kind of money leaving our shores.

And let's not forget the oft-forgotten fact that this war is already eight years in, and patience is wearing thin. During all the chaos of the last administration, the goals for Afghanistan were in a constant state of flux, and nearest I can tell we are yet to accomplish anything of real significance.

The recently stolen election really hurts our credibility, and that could be the most important component of all. In truth, nation building cannot work without the support of those for whom the nation is being built. Early in the war, the response from Afghans was very positive because Americans drove out an unpopular government. The problem is we replaced it with one far less stable and equally corrupt, which leads to waning support and a need for more troops. Still, there comes a point when you can't fight your way through this with force, and to his credit, Obama appears to have recognized this, hence the relatively small "surge."

And now for the Left. Their buzz word is "inherited." The democrats constantly shift the blame for the entire Middle East quagmire to the Bush administration, and for the most part I agree -- though there are several democrats who were in lock-step behind Bush and have since developed amnesia. So democrats, we get it, now please SHUT THE FUCK UP!

Blaming the previous administration for inherited problems is a tactic nearly as old as the presidency itself. It's a great way to win an election, but a shitty way to run a country. It's important to recognize who made mistakes (W, I'm looking at you), but that doesn't change the reality of now. We have to develop a way to get out of this mess, which means being a bit more forward looking.

But if you're going to look to the past, go a little farther back, let's say to the 1980s. Our fight in Afghanistan is teetering dangerously close to the missteps we made concerning the Soviet occupation. We ousted an oppressive dictator, became impatient and frustrated over the amount of invested resources, and withdrew. A country full of abandoned, pissed off young people became radicalized and the next thing you know there's a plane sticking out of a New York skyscraper.

We can't afford this mistake again, otherwise we'll have wasted countless lives and resources only to have failed in capturing the man we set out to find, essentially ending up right where we started. That's the measure of true defeat: to have accomplished nothing at the sacrifice of so much.

My biggest concern is managing the balancing act among all parties concerned. What surprises me most is that no one seems to address the fact that increased American presence in Afghanistan has been the rule rather than the exception. Eventually the point of diminishing returns will catch up to us, probably sooner than later. Hopefully we will have created some stable system in Afghanistan by then, be it democracy, theocracy, or whatever the people are ready to support. If not, we might be fucked. Ideally we can learn from that mistake, but if history is any indication, it appears that we won't

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