October 29, 2009
The situation in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan has been bloodier than it has been in recent months.
President Obama has yet to make a decision, but each day brings yet another hint that the debate over whether more troops should be sent to Afghanistan is over. The debate inside the White House "is no longer over whether to send more troops, but how many more will be needed." Right now, the administration seems particularly keen on a strategy that would protect 10 top population centers, placing a particular emphasis on Kandahar, the Taliban's spiritual capital.
Military officials insist that beyond top population centers, troops need to protect major agricultural areas and highways, and Gen Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, has already briefed Obama on how he would utilize more troops in this strategy.
Officials insist that however many troops are sent, this new strategy would undoubtedly also include an increased focus on training more Afghan troops, efforts to get less-radical members of the Taliban to switch sides, and stepped up economic assistance. Essentially this would represent the middle ground that Obama has been so seeking between those who oppose any buildup and military officials who want more than 40,000 additional troops.
There has been a considerable amount of discussion about Afghanistan and with it, a worry that increasing violence will disrupt that country's presidential election runoff on Nov 07.
The Taliban is well entrenched in southern Afghanistan, Northern Pakistan and Waziristan, they do represent a well-developed government structure there, there is a certain détente between the Taliban and the Pakistani military and their secret service, the ISI. The Afghan people would just as soon get rid of us.
Meanwhile, we learn that the president of Afghanistan's brother a dealer in opium (Afghanistan's chief import) and on the CIA payroll. It's a little too early to say what that all means.
Some feel the United States owes Afghanistan an opportunity to set up its own government. Senator John Kerry, who is chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee says we need to be careful, that we should not increase our troop strength in Afghanistan beyond the ability of the civilian infrastructure to improve the government and improve the running of the country.
It's a little frustrating to hear these various voices making their arguments for or against Afghanistan. Each one sounds persuasive, each makes a good case for his or her point of view. But here's the question I have: Not so much what you think we ought to be doing in Afghanistan, but: What question must we answer to decide what our future is in Afghanistan?
What is there in Afghanistan for the United States?
What is so vital to us in Afghanistan that we would consider sending more troops and signing on there for a significantly longer period of time? Remember, we've already been there for eight years chasing Osama bin Laden and attempting to disrupt the Taliban. We're talking about sending more troops and giving aid to the Afghan government.
Why would we do that?
What does an American care what happens in Afghanistan?
Afghanistan has a government riddled with corruption, a countryside the government does not control and a tribal culture that is as likely to tolerate the Taliban as it is to tolerate the central government in Kabul.
So why wouldn't the United States just say to Afghanistan, sorry, but this is your country, your future, welcome to it. We'll see you later. We can do as Vermont Sen George Aiken said in the Vietnam era, "Declare victory and get out."
For us to remain there --the human cost and the financial cost-- no one has explained the payoff. What is the payoff for the United States in Afghanistan that would have us stay there?
Do you have a good answer to that?