So we're sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. But we'll start pulling them out in 18 months. I expected better than this from the president; but it is a difficult and complex situation. Back in October I thought through some of the issues with sending an army into Afghanistan, and you could have concluded from that, that I didn't think we should. So now I'll look at some of the other arguments.
The first and biggest argument is: the United States made this mess, the United States ought to clean it up. You wouldn't let your ten-year-old walk away from a broken window with the argument that he had other things he needed to concentrate on. That's roughly the position being taken by the folks who say, bring the troops home, we need to spend the money on health care / jobs / climate change / fill-in-the-blank. It's true that we actually had a reason to invade Afghanistan (unlike Iraq); but the fact is we invaded. And now some people argue that we can't afford it, we have responsibilities at home, etc. Yeah, but we invaded. We broke the window; we ought to sweep up the glass.
A second related argument will probably be pooh-poohed as old-fashioned. OK, I'm old-fashioned. We're getting a reputation as a nation that others can't depend on, because when the going gets tough, the Americans go home. That wasn't the reputation we had in World War II, or even in Vietnam (until Nixon decided to cut his losses). We've been building this rep since the first Bush administration, when George I let the Iraqi "marsh Arabs" think he would back them against Saddam, and then sat back while Saddam gassed them; it picked up steam when Clinton pulled the Marines out of Somalia after the "Black Hawk down" incident, because nobody at home was willing to accept American casualties. We're in the process of pulling out on the Iraqi Sunnis (or so they could argue). And now we've just told the Afghans that we're only there for another couple of years. Believe me, the Taliban was listening.
If we aren't willing to finish these little expeditions, we shouldn't start them. So in this case I'll say, very reluctantly, that Obama is right - at least right that we should send the 30,000 more troops.
There were two very interesting op-ed pieces in this morning's San Francisco Chronicle that I'd like to bring to the president's opinion, although I think Gen. McChrystal may already understand them. Both of them make the point that the central government in Afghanistan is an active hinderance to our efforts; both of them point out that Afghanistan has, in John Arquilla's words, "no history of successful democratic rule from Kabul."
John Arquilla, of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, argues that we need to negotiate with the Taliban (Flaws in Obama's Strategy for Afghanistan), because many of the people who look like Taliban to us are actually Afghan patriots who regard us as invaders. If we can treat them with respect and help them to develop their own societies, they may turn on the actual Taliban, whom they don't like either. This is what happened in Iraq with the Sunni Awakening.
Mizgon Zahir, an Afghan-American freelance journalist, urges Obama to bypass the Kabul government and deal with local tribal elders (Afghanistan needs nation-building from U.S.), because Afghan citizens don't trust the corrupt government in Kabul. Ms. Zahir argues that "community self-governance makes the most sense in a tribal country." Afghans trust their tribal elders, and a true government can only be built on the basis of that trust.
If we pull out in 2011 with the Taliban just waiting to take over, we'll add Afghanistan to the list of people who believe that you can't depend on the Americans.