Monday, August 31, 2009

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Much of the U.S. military force in Afghanistan was withdrawn to fight in Iraq.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.

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Blogger Sylvia K said...

I couldn't agree more, but what does it take to get this across to the Obama Administration? The path that was followed after 9/11 was a total disaster and had little if anything to do with what needed/should have been done. But it's too late now and as you said, an expanded US presence in Afghanistan does nothing to help against Islamic terrorism.

Always good to see your post, Mort!

Have a great week!


Monday, August 31, 2009 10:00:00 PM  
Blogger joared said...

Soon after Bush's war a former Afgan living in my community explained the Taliban, their place in the minds of his countrymen, and how circumstances always result in their reemergence as has occurred for centuries.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009 4:47:00 AM  
Blogger John said...

As usual, Mort, I find myself in complete agreement with you, even if Pat Buchanan makes the same point. (The old saying is that even a blind hog finds an acorn from time to time.)

During the campaign Obama had to counterbalance his solid opposition to the Iraq adventure by rattling a saber about Yugoslavia. I figured the political impact of that position was to reassure military types from the conservative right that he was not a wimpy pacifist like all us liberals tend to be in their eyes.

Now that he's in office, my instinct is that he knows well what a quagmire we're in and would love to figure a way to get out. Unfortunately I see three problems:
1) Strategic placement in a nuclear neighborhood (Pakistan, Russia, India and Israel)
2) Testosterone signals (still) as red meat for the American right. His problems with the teabag set are like a California fire.
3) An "all volunteer" military, for whatever else it is or is not, is also a jobs program. The more people we have in uniform, the fewer might be standing in unemployment lines which are still getting longer.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009 12:39:00 PM  
Blogger Darlene said...

Obama inherited such a mess that I don't see any credible way out. It's sort of a 'damned if you do and damned if you don't' situation.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009 1:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I couldn't believe my ears when first I heard that Pres Obama was making Afghanistan his war (my interpretation). What is it with presidents? Do they think that they will have no place in history if they have no deaths on their hands? Bah, humbug!
Cop Car

Wednesday, September 02, 2009 4:07:00 AM  
Anonymous Jhawk23 said...

I'm in full agreement; sometimes it seems we learned nothing from Vietnam.

Having (correctly) criticized the war in Iraq as unnecessary, Obama was forced by political considerations (Republicans would have called him "weak") to adopt the one in Afghanistan.

The only hope I see is that even some key Republicans are now questioning the war in Afghanistan. Is there a possibility that a decision to pull out of Afghanistan could be a bipartisan one? Even that, however, won't prevent GOP critics from screaming for Obama's head in 2012.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009 11:21:00 AM  

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