Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Obama Is Wrong On Afghanistan

I've long been skeptical of Obama's support for escalating the war in Afghanistan. What can we possibly achieve there that would be worth the cost? I just don't get it.

Last week, Obama gave a rationale for the war which seems to be, frankly, dumb.

Here's Juan Cole:
President Barack Obama may or may not be doing the right thing in Afghanistan, but the rationale he gave for it on Friday is almost certainly wrong. Obama has presented us with a 21st century version of the domino theory. The U.S. is not, contrary to what the president said, mainly fighting "al-Qaida" in Afghanistan. In blaming everything on al-Qaida, Obama broke with his pledge of straight talk to the public and fell back on Bush-style boogeymen and implausible conspiracy theories.

Obama realizes that after seven years, Afghanistan war fatigue has begun to set in with the American people. Some 51 percent of Americans now oppose the Afghanistan war, and 64 percent of Democrats do. The president is therefore escalating in the teeth of substantial domestic opposition, especially from his own party, as voters worry about spending billions more dollars abroad while the U.S. economy is in serious trouble.

He acknowledged that we deserve a "straightforward answer" as to why the U.S. and NATO are still fighting there. "So let me be clear," he said, "Al-Qaida and its allies -- the terrorists who planned and supported the 9/11 attacks -- are in Pakistan and Afghanistan." But his characterization of what is going on now in Afghanistan, almost eight years after 9/11, was simply not true, and was, indeed, positively misleading. "And if the Afghan government falls to the Taliban," he said, "or allows al-Qaida to go unchallenged -- that country will again be a base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as they possibly can."

Obama described the same sort of domino effect that Washington elites used to ascribe to international communism. In the updated, al-Qaida version, the Taliban might take Kunar Province, and then all of Afghanistan, and might again host al-Qaida, and might then threaten the shores of the United States. He even managed to add an analog to Cambodia to the scenario, saying, "The future of Afghanistan is inextricably linked to the future of its neighbor, Pakistan," and warned, "Make no mistake: Al-Qaida and its extremist allies are a cancer that risks killing Pakistan from within."

This latter-day domino theory of al-Qaida takeovers in South Asia is just as implausible as its earlier iteration in Southeast Asia (ask Thailand or the Philippines). Most of the allegations are not true or are vastly exaggerated. There are very few al-Qaida fighters based in Afghanistan proper. What is being called the "Taliban" is mostly not Taliban at all (in the sense of seminary graduates loyal to Mullah Omar). The groups being branded "Taliban" only have substantial influence in 8 to 10 percent of Afghanistan, and only 4 percent of Afghans say they support them. Some 58 percent of Afghans say that a return of the Taliban is the biggest threat to their country, but almost no one expects it to happen. Moreover, with regard to Pakistan, there is no danger of militants based in the remote Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) taking over that country or "killing" it.

The Kabul government is not on the verge of falling to the Taliban. The Afghan government has 80,000 troops, who benefit from close U.S. air support, and the total number of Taliban fighters in the Pashtun provinces is estimated at 10,000 to 15,000. Kabul is in danger of losing control of some villages in the provinces to dissident Pashtun warlords styled "Taliban," though it is not clear why the new Afghan army could not expel them if they did so. A smaller, poorly equipped Northern Alliance army defeated 60,000 Taliban with U.S. air support in 2001. And there is no prospect of "al-Qaida" reestablishing bases in Afghanistan from which it could attack the United States. If al-Qaida did come back to Afghanistan, it could simply be bombed and would be attacked by the new Afghan army.

I started supporting Obama in early 2007 because of his outspoken and correct speech against the war in Iraq. I do not understand his position on Afghanistan.

Americans who aren't directly touched by the wars seem to have almost forgotten them in the wake of the economic crisis, but this issue is too important to stay on the back burner. How many more lives and billions of dollars must we lose in Afghanistan before we admit that there's really no reason for us to be over there?


Ezzie said...

Can we just be honest and say you are against all wars unless they are actively attacking US civilians?

Jewish Atheist said...

Why say something that's not true? I supported the first Gulf War, for example. I've got no problem with defending other innocent countries/people. My problem is when we're at war and I can't see how we're going to accomplish anything worthy of the costs.

Scott said...

He's just as wrong about Pakistan, unfortunately. A situation that may prove worse than the Afghan mess if that's at all possible.

Of course none of this is a surprise, people who oppose American violence throughout the World are very quickly called cranks or nuts by the established super majority inside Washington (ie. politicians and media types alike). If Obama ever actually intended to decrease the level of American aggression in the middle east he never would have had the chance to play the game like he has.

CyberKitten said...

JA said: How many more lives and billions of dollars must we lose in Afghanistan before we admit that there's really no reason for us to be over there?

Erm.... Lots?

Shalmo said...

An interesting observation of mine for the Jews here who believe in the supernatural, God, Torah, etc:

Its interesting that the more Jewry support these imperial adventures of the US overseas, the more does the intermarriage and apostacy rate of the Jewish people grow

If you believe in the supernatural, one could argue that the decaying rates of Jewry today are divine retrubution for modern Jews' support for barbarism in foreign lands.

Ironic because its leads to those very same foreign land's undergoing massive emigration rates, which bring in populations into North America, who are prospering and growing enormously here. If the US, and the zionist lobbyists behind it all, left those countries alone and let them develop then those foreigners would never immigrate here in the first place.

There is a delightful tune of karma to it all!

Holy Hyrax said...

I love how people perceive things that coincidentally match their agendas

Holy Hyrax said...

Personally, I think this has all to do with the lack of see-saws on playgrounds. Have you noticed that more we remove see-saws from playgrounds, the more we have been in these wars??

E-Man said...

I don't know about the rest of you but I really enjoy Holy Hyrax's comments.

Comrade Kevin said...

I foresee us attempting to be the latest major power to contain the chaos in Afganistan, failing miserably, then pulling out in a year.

Jack said...

We absolutely did the right thing in going into Afghanistan. Unfortunately we didn't commit to it the way that we should have.

DrJ said...

I think that Obama is trying in part to correct the mistakes of Charlie Wilson'w war. We made a mess of the region and he's trying to clean it up. It will be interesting to see if it succeeds.

Shalmo, I suggest that you focus your comments on rational and thoughtful opinions rather than anti-semitic conspiracy theories. There is free speech here, but if you want to spew your venomous hate message it might be more appreciated in other forums.

Anonymous said...

I can not believe people are comparing the proven fact that Al-Qaeda and the Taliban used Afganastan as a place to train, with the unproven and often proven false theory of the "communist domino affect" (Good morning Vietnam)

There is nothing similar about what Obama is saying and the domino affect. What kind of moron even makes the comparison?

Anonymous said...

"The Kabul government is not on the verge of falling to the Taliban. The Afghan government has 80,000 troops, who benefit from close U.S. air support, and the total number of Taliban fighters in the Pashtun provinces is estimated at 10,000 to 15,000."

This comment is stupid. The number of troops, doesn't matter if the people in the country don't trust the government and prefer the leadership of the Taliban. No wonder he thinks it's the same as the "domino theory"

Anonymous said...

I must admit that I'm conflicted about the situation in Afghanistan.

I think there are legitimate US security concerns there. It doesn't much matter that Afghanistan as a whole is no longer a safe haven for al Qaeda (therefore the domino theory argument isn't germane). All that matters is that bin Laden and Co. are beyond the reach of any government that might wish to constrain their activities. It's not irrational to view the situation as a security risk.

On the other hand, I'm inclined to regard 9/11 as a freak occurrence. After decades of terrorism in Ireland, Israel, and elsewhere in the world, how many terrorist strikes have achieved similar levels of destruction? The law of averages says there's going to be a big strike sooner or later. It doesn't mean that al Qaeda can pull off another equally big strike again, even if the USA packs up it's troops and flies them home.

Second, the size of the threat is only one consideration. The other part of the calculation is, Do we really have the capacity to do anything about it? We're all familiar with the challenge of rooting out an enemy from that mountainous region. And the worrisome situation in Pakistan complicates the problem enormously.

Americans tend to think their military is omnipotent -- it can successfully execute any mission in any part of the world, if only the public supports the mission. I think Vietnam put the lie to that complacent assumption. And the (at best) mixed results in Iraq are a reminder of those real-world limitations.

A war isn't worth the cost in blood and treasure if you can't win it. No matter how real the security threat may be.

Anonymous said...

Does an atheist believe in an afterlife, or some form of existence, after one has passed from this world? Or is that entirely dependent on belief in G-d?

Anonymous said...

"After decades of terrorism in Ireland, Israel, and elsewhere in the world, how many terrorist strikes have achieved similar levels of destruction?"

Terrorism doesn't exist in a vacuum.

when you have a country like Ireland or Israel actively fighting against terrorist activity, they are forced to do "small" things. In a country like the U.S. during the 90s, where we actively ignored terrorist activity, they have room to do the "big" things.

DrJ said...

I think that its improtant to remember that this is 4gw, 4th generation warfare. In this type of asymetric conflict with non-state actors, the terms that we use like battle, victory, defeat, surrender have completely different meanings.

This is what we are dealing with when fighting Al Qaida and other terrorist groups. They are highly motivated decentralized entities, where psychology, moral ambiguity, "moral victory", and public perception are key elements. Their "victory" is when the state actor comes to the conclusion that the "battle" is unwinnable in terms of cost and gives up.

We need to keep these things in mind when designing our strategy. The problem can only be managed but not "cured" and realistic but clear goals have to be set. Our eyes need to be wide open as to what the terrorists goals really are, and not be tempted with appeasement-like gestures, which only weaken us in their eyes.