Obama’s war is not inconvenient
Afghanistan is a mysterious place, replete with complex cave structures, and hard edged, cold mountainous ranges. It is perfect ground to breed and hide terrorists, who use its hellish terrain to their advantage. It is here where President Obama has chosen to reignite the war on terror. Taliban insurgents have made strides in the country, and threaten the fragile peace that exists within it. But the question of whether or not we can win this war has suddenly been thrust into the spotlight. What can we achieve, and how can we do it given our domestic priorities?
In late 2001, the United States engaged Al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan in an effort to capture and/or kill Osama bin Laden, the acknowledged mastermind behind the brutal attacks on U.S. soil in September of that year. Operation Enduring Freedom has been an ongoing endeavor, even as it was overshadowed by its more controversial counterpart: The war in Iraq.
During his presidential campaign, Barack Obama made defeating Al-Qaida and the Taliban a high priority. That meant extending the war in Afghanistan, and increasing the amount of troops on the ground there. Obama made it clear that the real hub of terrorist activity was along the Afghan-Pakistan border, and his goal was to weed out and capture or kill any Al-Qaida members found along this stretch. The Taliban, the corrupt government that was removed from power in the initial thrust of Operation Enduring Freedom, was reorganizing stronger than ever, and were establishing a foothold in the country. America had to preserve the newly elected democratic government there, as well as stamp out the growing terrorist activity. For this to happen though, Obama believed we must increase our stake and expand our role.
Several problems come with our expanded role there. Wars in the Afghan mountains and region have always been complicated and dangerous. Talk to the Soviet Union about that. The commander in charge of the Afghan conflict, General Stanley McCrystal, has suggested that the current strategy is flawed. The general believes that more than the 68,000 troops already there are needed. The president has already increased the number of troops in the war by 21,000 this year alone. Democrats are beginning to chafe at Mr Obama, with some actually claiming that they will hold off on support for additional troops until they are satisfied that a clear war strategy is articulated by the white house. This coming at a time when our country is faced with one of the worst economic crises in more than a generation. Heavy unemployment and fewer new jobs has made the administration focus more on the economy. And the centerpiece of President Obama’s legislative agenda, health care reform, has taken an inordinate amount of lumps in the last two months. Now, there is mounting pressure about a war that is becoming more and more unpopular.
The president now seems to be in a box. He cannot backtrack from the one constant foreign policy issue he has championed for the past eighteen months, even in the face of mounting casualties, and a call for a new more effective strategy.
Some are suggesting that we abandon Afghanistan altogether. We would leave the heavy lifting to the Afghan military, and augment their efforts by using special forces, drones and other forms of air power. While this approach is intriguing, it seems to fly in the face of conventional wisdom. The Afghan military is not equipped to take on guerrilla fighters like the Taliban and Al-Qaida. American forces have to provide the necessary means for the Afghan military to effectively sustain itself, and that is not a short term process or one done from afar.
How does President Obama articulate a new strategy that will rally skeptical democrats and political pundits? Fighting in a protracted conflict without a defined plan may alarm the more dovish part of his base, and remind them of the worst elements of George W. Bush’s Iraq fiasco.
What if he decides to pull out, as some like columnist George Will have suggested? The odds of Al-Qaida and the Taliban regaining control of the country, and turning its attention to its neighbor Pakistan is a horrifying thought. Having the Taliban a stones throw away from Pakistan would destabilize that country, and place its nuclear arsenal in serious jeopardy. That alone should be enough to persuade the most vehement pacifist.
So what are we left with? A counter-insurgency that for all intents and purposes, will never end. The president should not get into a battle of parallels with his detractors, who may claim that his Afghan adventure is nothing more than Iraq redux. There is an entirely different element to this struggle. Al-Qaida’s public resurgence in a country where it is a near certainty that Osama bin Laden resides, should be enough to win support for our continued war efforts. This is not a morally ambiguous venture. This is about restoring order and justice, and saving a country from the worst kind of tyranny and terror. Withdrawal and surrender are not options here. It is a matter of convenience to protect our interests, and safeguard our liberties.