Afhganistan Could Derail Obama Like Vietnam Derailed LBJ
The old expression is “Afghanistan is where empires go to die.” Ask Alexander the Great. Ask Genghis Khan. Ask the British. Most recently ask the (now defunct) Soviet Union which spent 10 years in Afghanistan before breaking up. The Soviets started trying to get out of Afghanistan during year 6. We have already been in Afghanistan 7 years (although at much lower troop levels and not engaging in constant battles) and are poised to try a “surge” strategy–in a nation twice the area, with double the population of Iraq–and divided not just into Sunni, Shi’ia and Kurds, but into numerous hostile tribes who could care less about the government in Kabul.
During the campaign, I didn’t say much about Obama’s desire to increase troops in Afghanistan. As a pacifist, I opposed the war from the beginning, but knew after 9/11 that there was very little chance of stopping military action in Afghanistan. A President Al Gore (provided he allowed 9/11 to happen) would have gone after the al-Qaeda training camps and the Taliban sheltering them no less than President Bush did. No one who could have been elected in America would have acted much differently–and most of the governments of the world were behind us. The mission was limited: Get Osama and his cohorts. Set up a framework for Afghans to form their own democracy based on their own ancient traditions. Offer material aid and reconstruction and get out of the way. The invasion of Iraq changed that: allowed Osama to escape and took resources away from the fragile government in Kabul, allowing the Taliban to regroup.
But the answer is not to add more military. Fortunately, the Washington consensus that it is the right strategy is coming undone. Not only peaceniks like myself, but more and more foreign policy types, from across the political spectrum, and including top military, are now saying that there is no military solution to Afghanistan. We need a rethinking of strategy and goals, and to plan and endgame and exit strategy–while there is still time. Otherwise, Afghanistan could derail everything Obama wants to do to rebuild and green our economy–and, in fact, it could bring down our entire system as it has so many others.
Fortunately, people are no longer shy about telling the new president to GET AFGHANISTAN RIGHT! as a new website put up by bi-partisan foreign policy types against escalation puts it. Read their analyses at the link. Then, do as I have done and send the link and your opposition to escalation in Afghanistan to Whitehouse.gov and State.gov (the State Department).
I did see hints in Obama’s speech yesterday that he is aware of the quagmire Afghanistan can be. He no longer was talking about “ending one war that should never have been waged to win another,” but talked about forging “a hard peace” in Afghanistan. He consults with military leaders today about ending Iraq (keeping a campaign promise to begin the withdrawal on day 1), but Afghanistan will also be on the agenda–and General Petraeus is among those who have claimed that there is no longterm military solution to Afghanistan.
Here is a major opportunity for peacemaking organizations. We need to help change direction here early before the Obama administration becomes invested in particular policy strategies for Afghanistan. I don’t want America to be an empire (although we have certainly acted like one in recent history!), but I also don’t want our ship of state to founder on the shoals of Afghanistan. It’s time for whole new approaches.
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