The unwinnable war in Afghanistan
I rarely agree with Pat Buchanan, the right-wing pundit and onetime Presidential candidate, on anything. But there is one issue on which we do agree: the war in Afghanistan. In a recent column, Buchanan described the war as "unwinnable" and called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
"We were seduced by the prospect of converting a backward tribal nation of 25 million, which has resisted every empire that set foot on its inhospitable soil, into a shining new democracy that would be a model for the Islamic world," Buchanan wrote.
When the U.S. invaded Afghanistan eight years ago, nation-building was not the Bush Administration's mission. The invasion, which was thoroughly justified, was aimed to destroy Al-Qaeda, the Islamic terrorist organization responsible for 9/11, and to punish the country's ruling Taliban regime for providing Al-Qaeda a haven.
Until we foolishly invaded Iraq two years later, we were on the verge of winning in Afghanistan. The Al-Qaeda terrorists and their Taliban hosts were retreating to the neighboring tribal areas in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province, and a pro-American government had been installed in Kabul, the capital city. These achievements were derailed by the Iraq invasion.
Much of the U.S. military force in Afghanistan was withdrawn to fight in Iraq. The initial objective was to destroy nuclear and chemical weapons that Saddam Hussein's government was supposed to be stockpiling. But there were no Iraqi stockpiles of such weapons. To justify the Iraq invasion, the mission was subtly altered. We were now going to punish the Saddam government for promoting international terrorism, including the 9/11 attack on the U.S.
When these phony goals were no longer credible, we assumed the role of savior for the oppressed Iraqi people. We would introduce democracy to a country where such a concept was unknown. This goal, of course, was contrary to the Bush Administration's supposed scorn for nation-building.
There was a brief semblance of peace established in Iraq after the Saddam regime had been overthrown and the anti-American insurgency tamed. In recent months, however, communal violence has threatened to tear Iraq apart. The U.S. is being forced to referee conflicts between Arab Sunnis and Shiites, Kurds and Arabs, and even civil battles between rival Shiite factions.
As the action in Iraq distracted U.S. forces from our original mission in Afghanistan, the Taliban is rapidly regaining control in Afghanistan while the nation's pro-American regime has proven to be corrupt and incompetent.
Moreover, a civil war between Afghanistan's dominant Pashtun (Pathan) people and the Tajiks, Uzbeks and other ethnic minorities is breaking out. Once again, the U.S. military is being forced to play referee.
Al-Qaeda and its Taliban allies remain hunkered down in neighboring Pakistan, where an allegedly pro-American regime seems unenthusiastic about fighting them. One reason is that Pakistan's huge Pashtun population is sympathetic to its Afghan kinsmen.
Against this complex backdrop, the new Obama Administration has unwisely shipped more U.S. troops to Afghanistan and is planning to send even more. Although the Taliban would impose an autocratic rule on the Afghan people, it appears to be gaining support from a local population that has become increasingly hostile to a U.S. presence.
Even if the Taliban regains full control and dethrones the present government, however, it does not pose a serious national security threat to the U.S.
Al-Qaeda, of course, does remain a major threat. Its leadership is dispersing throughout the Muslim world to such places as Somalia, Yemen and Algeria. All the while, it is recruiting to its ranks local anti-American Islamic terrorists. Indeed, there may even be so-called "sleeper" contingents based in the U.S. ready to conduct operations here.
In effect, Al-Qaeda has become a sort of franchise operations, bestowing its name, resources, and training on disaffected Muslims with no affection for America.
So why the need for more American troops in Afghanistan? There is none. An expanded U.S. military presence there would do nothing to strengthen our defense against Islamic terrorism.