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Underestimating Our Afghan Summer? April 30, 2009

Posted by presto21 in Politics, World Affairs.
Tags: , , ,

Hey guys,

Most of you are aware that in what will probably go down as the most important foreign policy decision of his first term, President Obama ordered the doubling of our troop presence in Afghanistan. As one who is generally skeptical of an interventionist foreign policy, I’ll admit that I find the rationale behind this “doubling down” far more compelling than many of our other military misadventures (Iraq?). A couple major arguments for increased involvement in Afghanistan:

1. The guys who attacked us on 9/11, while not born and raised in Afghanistan, relied heavily on the safe haven the Taliban provided for fundraising, training, planning, and organizing.

2. The Taliban is, by any humane standards, a brutally repressive regime; especially so with regards to women. The other day a video leaked out of a young Pakistani woman being publicly whipped for the crime of having a man to her home who was not part of her family. Those who prosecuted her under Sharia law said that she could have been executed and claimed that, if anything, they were being lenient. Here’s a link to the video: Taliban Video Shows Teen Girl Beaten for ‘Adultery’

3. The Taliban is back on the rise in Afghanistan and the Karzai government is widely seen as ineffectual outside of Kabul.

4. The number of troops we have there now is universally seen as insufficient. Our military’s movements in most key areas are limited to the extent that soldiers rarely go far from their bases.

5. The terrorism and extremism in Afghanistan has overflown into large swaths of Pakistan’s tribal region, destabilizing it greatly and ruining the tourism driven economy the SWAT valley used to enjoy. Worst of all, Pakistan’s own military has proven either unwilling or unable to staunch the bleeding. Everyday the Taliban’s influence creeps closer to Islamabad.

6. Pakistan has a nuclear arsenal.

Comparing such imperative threats to the thread of bad intelligence our government used to link 9/11 to Iraq and launch a massive invasion, makes it clear that, for once, we may have a war of necessity on our hands. Maybe war is never justified, but some wars are certainly more justified than others.

Such has been my thinking on the prospect of a renewed campaign in Afghanistan: It’s going to be tough, it’s going to be expensive, and there’s no guarantee of success. But at least we have some solid reasons to be there. At least an honest debate on the merits of more or less involvement seems warranted.

Well, a couple days ago I read an excellent article which contained firsthand account of a firefight in the region as well as some eye-opening specifics on what we can expect from Afghanistan as the fighting ramps up this summer. While it does an excellent job of highlighting the huge strides that could be made if the massive poppy industry (which bankrolls the Taliban) can be shutdown, it is also a sobering reminder of the worst-case scenario: a protracted and bloody, conflict with heavy U.S. and civilian casualties.

Please read the article here: Poppy Fields of Afghanistan


1. jflack4prez - May 14, 2009


This article reminded me of this discussion and the article Jason posted at the beginning of this thread. Through reading more articles, and having multiple talks with friends and family about the issue, my thinking on it has progressed.

If, as Obama’s White Paper on Afghanistan posits, the US goals are strict and limited to disrupting the Taliban, an organization which allows international and anti-American terrorism to flourish, then I could grudgingly support a 1 year invasion of Afghanistan.

In order to glean my support, the administration would have to identify quantifiable indicators of progress. These could be: a maximum of only 500 terrorists left in the region, or 10,000 Afghani security forces must be trained by a certain date. Or whatever, someone smarter than me could determine these requirements.

If these are not met, we should leave. I know this is a strangely unconventional way to conduct war-making policy, however it might be the only way to avoid a disastrous quagmire like Vietnam. Liberal congressman have been concerned recently about providing the funding for the two wars in the Middle East because the administration has not produced enough concrete, measurable goals.

An article addressing this last issue is here: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/14/us/politics/14cong.html

All should read Obama’s white paper on the conflict which can be found at his website, whitehouse.gov

2. presto21 - April 30, 2009

The stated goal is different now, the administration has dropped all rhetoric about “democratizing” Afghanistan. They’re focusing heavily on these three regions where the poppy is because of our own national security interest. The money made from the opiate industry in Afghanistan fuels anti-American activity all over the world.

Nobody is claiming we will be viewed as liberators, that the “war will pay for itself”, or that democracy will spring up. They are saying that this is a very dangerous part of the world at a very dangerous moment and it needs to be stabilized.

3. jflack4prez - April 30, 2009

I’m just saying: What is “Success?” I didnt use that word. But I am wondering what our goal is. What is the stated objective? That article makes me think Obama announced it as something along the lines of what George Bush said our goal was in Iraq: To liberate the people from an oppressive regime that harbors 911 terrorists. Despite the fact that its more true this time, its sad that it is the same.

If that is the goal, the inherent problem is that when we “succeed” there is no government, no infrastructure, no industry, the GDP per cap is 800, not many natural resources. Whats gonna happen then? I just think its a bad call, theres clear signs of it already, theres better places we could be spending our money, and theres a better way to fight the “war on terror.”

Oh wait, I’m not supposed to use that word anymore, even though it seems like thats what were doing.

4. presto21 - April 30, 2009

Four things:
1. I’m not sure that “success” in Afghanistan is obtainable either
2. The decisions have already been made, and the 20,000 additional troops committed
3. If we were to pull out entirely, what would prevent a de facto “Talibanistan” from being established which continues to bleed Pakistan and undermines its territorial integrity?
4. It’s true there are other areas of the world (Somalia, Yemen, etc.) with brutal and repressive regimes, but remember that not only did the terrorists who planned 9/11 find safe haven in this region but the ones who carried out the more recent Mumbai massacre were geographically and ideologically very close to these same Islamists.

5. jflack4prez - April 30, 2009

Nice post man, some interesting thoughts, and that article was interesting too. However….

I don’t think we should double our troop presence in Afghanistan.

1) The article says it will be bloody. Without a doubt, the number of soldiers dead in Afghanistan will increase significantly from its current number of one-thousand one-hundred and thirty six lives ended. (According to icasualties.org)

2) Who are we really fighting? The article focused on solely on the Taliban. From my understanding, the Taliban is not Al-Qaeda. Is the Taliban more than a REALLY oppressive regime running the opium business in a lawless country? If not, why don’t we also send troops to areas of Somalia? Why not Yemen, Syria, and Pakistan as well? These countries are harboring terrorists. And, if our war aims are humanitarian, to stop the brutally repressive Taliban, why dont we try to topple all the vicious, oppressive regimes in the world: Eritrea, Sudan, Myanmar, North Korea, China, the Congo… I know I’m getting carried away. But there are many more humanitarian crises in the world today than just the Taliban. Likewise, Islamic fundamentalists, who are ideologically, specifically anti-American exist in more places than just Afghanistan. Moreover, once we do root out all the Taliban (which the article makes clear will be REALLY hard to do), what will stop the terrorists that we dont kill from fleeing to the other numerous countries harboring terrorism?

3) The difficulty of the task in Afghanistan cannot be understated. The overall literacy rate is no more than 30%, and in some areas less than 10%. In contrast, Iraq’s literacy rate is 74%. Literacy is practically a prerequisite to democracy. You cannot vote if you cannot read and write. If our goal isnt to set up democracy, what government will we set up? (I assume we will not remain indefinitely) If the people dont want us because they dont understand we are trying to help, and the farmers dont have incentives to stop farming poppy, how are we going to “win” this war. And even if we do, Islamic fundamentalists, terrorists, and anti-American sentiment will still prosper in other areas of the world.

4) Also what does Pakistan and Islamabad have to do with doubling the troop count in Afghanistan? From my understanding, the Pakistani Taliban originated independently from the Afghanistan Taliban, and have no links aside from their ideological and tactical similarities. Even if we have 100,000 troops in Afghanistan the Pakistani government will not allow us to fight there with infantry. And are we really prepared to take Pakistan’s nuke in what would probably be an wildly illegal operation?

Yes Afghanistan is better war than Iraq. Yes, that’s where the 911 terrorists came from. But its 2009, we need to move forward. Is doubling the troop totals in Afghanistan the best next step? I sure dont think so.

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