Did Obama overpromise on Afghanistan?
OPINION - Could Afghanistan become President Obama's Vietnam?
Under the pretext of responding to the September 11, 2001 attacks on America, the United States and Great Britain invaded Afghanistan on October 7, 2001.
Flying the banner of Operation Enduring Freedom, President Bush told the
American people that the U.S. strikes were “designed to disrupt the use of
Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations, and to attack the military
capability of the Taliban regime.”
Bush went on to say:
“We will make it more difficult for the terror network to train new recruits and coordinate their evil plans. Initially, the terrorists may burrow deeper into caves and other entrenched hiding places. At the same time, the oppressed people of Afghanistan will know the generosity of America and our allies. As we strike military targets, we will also drop food, medicine and supplies to the starving and suffering men and women and children of Afghanistan… “
During the 2008 presidential campaign, candidate Obama promised to withdraw troops from Iraq immediately to bolster the forces in Afghanistan. Doing so would defeat the Taliban and Al Qaeda, he argued.
“It’s time to refocus our attention on the war we have to win in Afghanistan,” the president said.
I believe that this tactic was taken by the Obama administration in order to placate the anti-Iraq contingent of the left-leaning American electorate while not leaving the president vulnerable to the hawkish “soft on defense” argument of the right.
As a campaign tactic, this approach proved to be successful. In reality, this may
prove to be one of the greatest miscalculations President Obama has made.
Could Afghanistan become President Obama’s Vietnam?
President Obama now calls this a “war of necessity,” which is fundamental to the “defense of our people.” In order to convince the American people that more troops are necessary, the president says, as George W. Bush said, that the mission is to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda and its extremist allies.”
What may really be at play here is an attempt to stabilize and rebuild Afghanistan, thereby providing stability that in the long run could help stabilize its nuclear-armed neighbor Pakistan.
A destabilized Afghanistan that leads to an unstable nuclear Pakistan could have grave results in India. Attacking “al-Qaeda and its extremist allies” is an easier sell to the American people than nation building and the longer term geopolitical strategy of establishing stability in Central Asia.
The problem with this logic or plan is that it does not appear to be working. The increase of American and coalition forces seems to be inciting resistance in many areas of this region rather than quelling it. Many Afghans view the American and coalition forces as invaders. Many are compelled, on a tribal and nationalist level, to resist. A combination of organized resistance by Taliban forces coupled with a growing nationalist resistance will only make defeating the opposition much more difficult.
According to Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan “is serious and it is deteriorating…[T]he Taliban insurgency has gotten better and more sophisticated in their tactics.”
According to the Defense Department, as of Tuesday, August 25, 2009, 724 members of the U.S. military have died in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan as a result of Operation Enduring Freedom. Of those, 548 troops were killed by hostile action.
The top American commander in the region, General Stanley A. McChrystal, continues to work on a major war strategy review and has yet to request additional troops above those already added by President Obama. There are currently 57,000 American soldiers in Afghanistan, well below what that commanders need to “win in Afghanistan.”
So far, because so many Americans have been focused on the economy, health care, and other domestic issues, Afghanistan has not been the focal point of their interest. This is slowly beginning to change as more conservatives and progressives alike are beginning to compare the military escalation in Afghanistan with the failure in Vietnam.
Since 2001, in spite of President Bush and now President Obama’s noble speeches and military tactics, the U.S. and its allies have not “disrupt(ed) the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations.” The U.S. has not been able to successfully “attack the military capability of the Taliban regime.”
President Obama and his advisors should learn from history – some ancient, some modern – and avoid repeating it. This is the region of the world that has never been defeated militarily. It is where empires go to die. The Greeks, Indians, Persians, Mongolians, British, and Russians have tried to hold Afghanistan but never succeeded.
While, according to Admiral Mullen, the insurgents’ tactics have “gotten better, and more sophisticated,” US tacticians remain mired in the same failed logic and processes. The US and its allies could “disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations, and attack the military capability of the Taliban regime” if more of the oppressed people of Afghanistan came to “know the generosity of America and our allies.” If America actually dropped more food, medicine and supplies and fewer munitions, political as well as military conflicts could be easier to resolve.
The problem with this solution is that those who fuel and promote the military industrial complex in America do not profit from the sale of humanitarian assistance. They profit from war. You can’t win by just replacing Alexander the Great’s war elephants with F-18 fighter jets and drones. This is why, if America is not smart, Afghanistan will become President Obama’s Vietnam and the country will once again be where empires go to die.