Thursday, September 07, 2006

Terrorism and Afghan War

The President has recently been focusing a great deal on the Afghan war and the prospects of continued action against al-Qaeda. I've been extraordinarily busy for the past few days and haven't gotten to spend much time online but I've been following the news.

I'd like to address this whole topic.

First, I never have opposed or questioned the need for us to have gone into Afghanistan as was the case with Iraq. Unlike Iraq, the people who attacked us on 9/11 did operate from Afghanistan, and did so behind the shield of the Taliban government.

I wrote in a post a few weeks ago (which had the broad ranging title, statement of philosophy: Peace and War on the war in Afghanistan:

[I] consider that our present conflict in Afghanistan was necessary to enter into. Recall that prior to 9/11, Osama bin Laden had organized the African Embassy bombings, the attack on the U.S.S. Cole and a number of other terrorist incidents around the world. Clearly 9/11 was an attack on the U.S., and clearly bin Laden was not planning to stop his attacks (nor has he, as the murderous attacks in Bali, Madrid and London show.) And George Bush did one right thing-- he gave the Taliban, the regime that was harboring bin Laden, a chance to hand him over before ordering an attack.

From that moment, the war was mismanaged. Despite the fact that at that time we had nearly universal support from the world, George W. Bush made it clear that he was only interested in those who would pursue the whole war in his way, and refused to even consider advice from other foreign leaders-- some of whom know quite a bit more about Afghanistan than we do. Then, after making alliances with local warlords of dubious dependability (something the other leaders might have reminded him about) he sent them in to actually get bin Laden at Tora Bora instead of U.S. marines. This allowed bin Laden to spread enough of his influence and cash around to make good his escape. Then came the biggest error in Afghanistan. The biggest mistake we made there IS the war in Iraq. As Afghanistan slipped onto the back burner, and we were content with fighting a war of attrition, the mood palpably changed, and the dubious warlords began considering their options again. Our investment became an afterthought, returning Afghanistan roughly to the state it was in following the abandonment of the country after the Soviet War-- a society impoverished both economically and by its isolation, that allowed al-Qaeda and the Taliban to flourish the first time-- as they are starting to do again now. Our international backing began to dwindle (exacerbated by such events as when George Bush takes a country like Canada, which had lost five soldiers in a friendly fire incident supporting Americans in Afghanistan, and informs them that they are being punished for not backing us in Iraq). With attacks and hostility towards the Americans on the rise in Afghanistan, we may have lost our chance to create a model for the region. Right now, I believe that with a renewed focus on Afghanistan, there could still be hope, and as long as bin Laden is alive we should pursue him, but if the intent is to ignore Afghanistan some more (which seems to be the case with the recent announcment that we are disbanding the special unit tasked with hunting for him there), then we are in a downward spiral and in that case it might be best to withdraw. And Iraq is still going, which makes it seem as though this is the case.

Now, I hope that the administration is serious in terms of their commitment for a renewed focus on Afghanistan. We've blown what advantages we had, but unlike Iraq, we were right to get into this one and we must be clear on the need to stop nowhere until bin Laden is either dead or in custody and his organization ceases to be a threat.

At the same time, I am somewhat dubious about all of this. For starters, look at the recent report that the CIA disbanded their special unit to hunt for bin Laden late last year. I had an interesting discussion on that on July 2 and 4th over the question of whether they might have made a deal with bin Laden to get Zarqawi. I personally am very skeptical of this (yes, there are still a handful of things I don't think George Bush won't do, but then again I've been unpleasantly surprised by him too often to feel 100% sure about anything.) But it remains a fact that we have scaled back the hunt for bin Laden so if I am skeptical about whether a deal was made, I am also skeptical about the renewed focus on it.

There is also the matter of the transfer of inmates from secret prisons. I will point out tangentially that conservatives who said, "You won't find any secret prisons, because they don't exist" are once again made to look like blindly pre-programmed idiots by their own President who once again reversed course and came out this week and said there are, and that he is transferring inmates from them to Guantanamo. In response to the recent Supreme Court ruling that said that military tribunals are illegal because they were not approved by Congress, he wants Congress to pass a bill authorizing it. And Congress will-- that was already on their agenda for this next session. So the question is, why he is making such a big deal out of it.

The answer can be found by looking at past history, some numbers and a calendar.

In 2002 (when support for the Iraq war was building, carefully pushed along by the President's shrill warnings about WMD) The White House pushed for a resolution in October authorizing 'use of force' against Iraq. Never mind that the war didn't start until months later, the Senate 'had' to vote on it in October 2002. Then in 2004, there was a renewed focus on fighting terrorism and Afghanistan in September and October 2004. Then Afghanistan pretty much dropped back to the back burner until recently.

Why is this? Well, it would take a blindly pre-programmed conservative to argue that this has nothing to do with political calculation.

Right now, the President's poll numbers and those of the GOP in general are very poor. People who are struggling more and more to pay bills don't buy all those statistics on the economy-- since the gap between the rich and poor has widened dramatically under Bush, the economy on average can do pretty good while the lower 4/5 of the economic wage earners are doing pretty bad.

Gas prices are still high. Sure, they are headed lower-- but considering where they were just a couple of years ago, a drop from $3/gallon to $2.50 per gallon still reinforces the fact that the 'new normal' is higher than the old 'very high.'

5 million more people are without health insurance, having lost it. And many more people, even if they have insurance are struggling to afford America's 'Cadillac health care' system on a 'Chevrolet budget.'

The one year anniversary of Katrina has brought back one of the biggest failures of the Bush administration.

And looming over all of those, the President's poll numbers on Iraq are atrocious-- nearly twice as many people think we should leave as stay.

After five years of the President's 'No child left behind' education initiative, scores on standardized college tests like the SAT are dropping again after several years of increases. In lower grades children are performing more poorly than they were just a few years ago.

In fact, the President has only one good polling number left. On terrorism. Of course the number of terror attacks worldwide is about the same as it was five years ago so we haven't really done much about it, but he is still perceived favorably on the issue.

So that explains a lot of why, with the election less than nine weeks away, we are suddenly seeing such a renewed focus on the war in Afghanistan right now.

Sure, conservatives will express shock at my questioning the President's motives.

All I'd say is, be sure to continue to ask him about the war in Afghanistan in November after the election and December.

Because I bet that by Christmas, Afghanistan will be relegated to the same second thought that it has been over the past few years. Hope I'm wrong, but that's what I expect.


Anonymous said...

Should there not be dialogue with the Taliban? Why not?

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, I think you may be right, Eli. I would like to believe that we are starting to focus more on Afghanistan, not to shift our attention away from Iraq, but because there is a genuine concern over the current state of things in that country.

Let's see how things are in a couple months, shall we?

Tom & Icy said...

Sometimes I feel like I'm going crazy when I listen to the news. First they told us that Iraq had nuclear and chemical weapons that could destroy U.S. cities, so they had to invade them. Then when they find they didn't have anything like that, they told us that was where the terrorists were coming from, but that wasn't true. Then we were told that Sadam was a bad guy and ruled his people too strickly. But they are a mix of groups that seem straight out of the middle ages and it seems like they need tight control. Then just the other day I heard Bush say in a speech there was an Islamic plan or ideology to take over the world and establish a world government and make Iraq the capital seat of the government, so we had to maintain control of that nation. And like you said, they told us there wasn't any secret prisons and now they say there are. So much is going on which they don't want us to know about. This is so confusing to me! I don't know what to believe anymore.

Eli Blake said...


Should there not be dialogue with the Taliban?


Although I and most Americans find their view of the world, women's rights and human rights to be both archaic and shocking, we have certainly had dialogue with people like the Chinese whose human rights policy is just as dismal.

The real stumbling block though is al-Qaeda. Bin Laden has attacked and killed Americans again and again and again. So he is our enemy, not so much the Taliban. So I guess my answer would be this (and as I mentioned I thought President Bush was right on this account): cut off ties to bin Laden, or even hand him over, and then I think the U.S. wouldn't have a specific quarrel with the Taliban, certainly nothing worth fighting a war over and nothing that would prevent establishing a dialogue.