By Chris Tubbs, Veteran US Army – Contact: ctubbs8 at gmail.com
Lt. General Stanley McChrystal is demanding 40,000 more troops for Afghanistan (and leaking this request to the press) or the war there will be lost. Vice President Joe Biden is arguing within the administration (and without through press leaks) that the mission to build democracy in Afghanistan is a failure and should be changed to a more simple counter-terrorism mission. Conservative commentator George Will is making a slightly more extreme version of VP Biden’s argument. Finally we are having a REAL discussion on America’s future in Afghanistan.
During the campaign there was only a caricature of a real discussion. Republicans wanted to stay in the war because Republicans always want to stay in a war, any war, at any cost, no matter what. Democrats wanted to stay in Afghanistan because it was “the right war,” the one America was perfectly correct in starting, as opposed to “the wrong war” in Iraq. Unfortunately, this argument is no better than the Republican argument – the fact that we were within our rights to start this war has nothing to do with whether it is wise to continue said war after eight miserable years.
Despite the pressure being put on him by Lt. Gen. McChrystal and the Republicans, President Obama is taking his time to do a complete and very thorough review of the situation in Afghanistan, what the mission there should be, and how we get out. The danger here is that President Obama will do little more than “stay the course” because he is afraid of what will happen if he doesn’t. Harry Truman’s presidency was severely damaged by his supposedly “losing” China to the communists. Lyndon Johnson kept escalating the war in Vietnam largely because he did not want the same thing to happen to his presidency. The American people often have a hard time facing up to facts about the world that they do not like. Let there be no mistake here, if we switch to a counter-terrorism mission rather than the (so-far failed) nation-building mission we are pursuing now the Taliban will retake Afghanistan. President Obama has made no secret of the fact that his main concerns will be focused in the area of domestic reform. This is as it should be but if he changes the mission in Afghanistan and the Taliban retake the country his domestic reforms may be in quite a bit of trouble.
Despite this problem the President must change the mission in Afghanistan to counter-terrorism. First, the US simply does not have the troops available to get the job done. Lt. Gen. McChrystal wants 40,000 more troops but where are these troops going to come from? The vast majority of the troops in Iraq will still be needed there for some time to come. Additionally, in order to achieve Iraq-like results in Afghanistan we will need even more troops there than we used in Iraq because Afghanistan is a far more rural country. The Taliban have a perfect sanctuary in Pakistan and we have no real reason to believe that we can completely defeat them.
The American people have the mindset we are invincible so if we lose at something it must be because someone screwed up. We “lost” China because the State Department was riddled with commies. We lost in Vietnam because Democrats stabbed the country in the back just as we were on the verge of winning. It only follows that we lost in Afghanistan because Obama is a socialist weakling. This argument will weaken the President politically but so will a long drawn-out stalemate while public support for the war diminishes.
Despite the seeming indestructibility of the Taliban it might still be worth one last shot if it weren’t for Hamid Karzai. In his blatant election-rigging he has betrayed both America and the Afghan people. Apparently, he has forgotten that the only thing that stands between him and the Taliban is the US Army. If anyone on “our side” deserves a beheading it is him. The credibility of the government is the single biggest key to any successful counter-insurgency operation. President Obama knows this and it is why he is conducting the second Afghanistan review in the nine months since he took office.
Time and again the American people and their leaders have shown a great unwillingness to face up to unpleasant facts. Karzai has thrown away the already small chance there was of stabilizing Afghanistan. American forces must shift focus to a more humble mission of taking out Al-Qaeda leaders and training camps. Yes, this will mean the Taliban take Afghanistan back. We can only hope that President Obama has the guts, as his predecessors from other wars have not, to tell the American people the truth. Then maybe the American people will finally accept that America is not invincible.