Friday, September 11, 2009

It's Sept. 11 and in good conscience I have to say it: OUT NOW!

Today is September 11, and a story out today compels me to speak out.


I fully support this administration on nearly every issue, most especially health care reform. I supported President Obama last year and continue to support his domestic agenda. And even in foreign policy, his early moves to get out of Iraq (though still far too slow for me) and his changing the tone from one of U.S. hegemony in the world towards more international cooperation are welcome changes.

But he's making a huge mistake by pouring American forces into Afghanistan.

Back when we went to war there in October 2001, I fully supported President Bush in his pursuit of Osama bin Laden and the Taliban government that gave him shelter.

But that was eight years ago, and President Bush bungled the job by de-emphasizing the Afghan war in the spring and early summer of 2002, when the Taliban had been driven into a small sliver of land, and one more concerted offensive could have finished them off (and probably netted all or most of the senior al-Qaeda leadership at the same time.) President Bush turned down the heat then and focused on Iraq, a country a thousand miles away that had nothing to do with the 9/11 terror attacks.

So bin Laden got away, the Taliban regrouped while we were otherwise preoccupied with Iraq and even spread across the border into Pakistan, and today we see that the leading U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General Billy McChrystal says that he sees no major signs of al-Qaeda in the country. Apparently they've moved on to Pakistan and elsewhere. This is a very important story, because remember we originally went into Afghanistan to get rid of al-Qaeda. Well, if al-Qaeda is gone, then who are we fighting, and why?

So if we are not there hunting al-Qaeda what are we doing? Propping up 'democracy?' That's a joke. We've been seeing the notoriously corrupt Karzai government steal an election right in front of us. Karzai will win the recount and be selected President again. But he will have no more legitimacy than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has in Iran. To suggest that we in any way accept a fraudulently elected leader as legitimate is to make a mockery of our own belief in democratic values. Mr. Karzai has no more legitimacy if the results of this election stand than the Taliban do. Neither was chosen by the people. So don't say we are in Afghanistan to support 'democracy' because we haven't seen any real democracy there. Ultimately for the Afghans to ever live in a true democracy they have to want it enough to fight for it themselves.

What we do see is in essence a civil war between the Taliban and the Karzai government. It is true that the Taliban have a reprehensible political and legal system in place in the areas which they control, and that life is especially horrible for the female half of the population. However, is that a reason to lose American lives over? I don't see it. The problems of Afghanistan belong to Afghanistan. The United States should be ready to lend a hand (both financially and with good advice) if asked, but there is really no good reason for maintaining U.S. troops there anymore.

Does that mean that we just give up searching for al-Qaeda terrorists? Not at all. Leaving with our army doesn't preclude continuing to collect intelligence, the use of special forces for quick, defined missions (such as if we have good intelligence about where bin Laden is), or of working behind the scenes with his local enemies (there are plenty, after all) to get to bin Laden that way. What successes we have had recently have been through the use of Predator and Reaper drones, unmanned aircraft that have gotten several al-Qaeda operatives (mostly on the Pakistani side of the border.) There is no reason why those sorts of operations couldn't continue.

I recently wrote a post entitled Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it about the uncanny similarity between our fruitless search for bin Laden to our similarly fruitless search despite sending an American army to march all over Mexico searching for Pancho Villa in 1916. One point I made was that as long as we were there, Villa essentially had nothing to worry about from his local enemies because he was giving the 'yanqui' the proverbial finger. But once we left so did his protection, and there were people in Mexico who knew how to find him much better than we did (and they eventually did catch up with him too.) It is certainly prudent to continue to keep an eye out for bin Laden but like a baseball that's gotten lost in the woods, there comes a time when the effort (and in this case that means American lives and hundreds of billions of dollars) expended outweighs the diminishing chance we have of finding what we are looking for. If you want to blame George Bush for that because the trail has grown cold while we were off fighting in Iraq for more than half a decade, go ahead. But it's time to get our army out and limit our looking to our intelligence service, satellites and other sources.

But the bottom line is that neither President Bush nor President Obama has articulated why we are still fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, what exactly we hope to accomplish there, what constitutes 'success,' and most importantly, what our exit strategy is.

In his speech the other night President Obama pointed out that the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are more than it would cost to reform health care (and that is true, based on CBO numbers.) But for that comparison to be any more meaningful than just a few numbers on paper, we have to quit bleeding our treasury just as so many Americans have bled their lives into the soil of those two nations all the way on the other side of the planet.

Imagine that: paying for health care reform by bringing all our soldiers home. Now THAT'S what I call a real world solution.

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sandyh said...

Thank you. It needs to be said.

Why continue Bush's flawed Middle Eastern policy? You can't gain cooperation from those who see you as an invader. There has been way too many coll

We are losing not only the locals but our allies in Europe. NATO is only half-heartedly supporting this incursion the way it is.

Might is never right. Building alliances and nurturing mutual respect is the only way to achieve long-term peace and stability.

sandyh said...

There has been way too much collateral damage among civilians.