Friday, October 16, 2009

My Afghan Problem - Stephen Schlesinger

My doubts about the US mission in Afghanistan, like those of many other Americans, have grown substantially over the past several years. While I think America was justified in toppling the Taliban government in 2001 for harboring the Al Qaeda criminals who killed 3000 US citizens and foreigners through their suicidal airplane assaults on New York and Washington, at the same time today I am wondering whether the cause we are fighting for in Afghanistan now is the same that Washington embraced eight years ago -- namely, to eliminate Al Qaeda.
First, the remnants of Al Qaeda have over the past half-decade scattered and most reside in Pakistan, so we are now mainly fighting the Taliban, a local, not a global fundamentalist insurgency, in Afghanistan.
Second, we have already about 68,000 troops in that country but we are primarily defending the nation's few big cities, and little of the countryside, making our mission, in geopolitical terms, a limited one and one no longer concerned about liberating a nation.
Third, General Stanley McChrystal's strategy, to provide security for Afghans while we build up the Afghan military and police forces, doesn't seem very workable as long as the Afghans realize the US will ultimately leave the country.
Fourth, the Karzai regime on whose behalf we are fighting, is corrupt, and, after a rigged election, also illegitimate, so we no longer are working with a truly legal government.
Fifth, in pursuing all of these policies, we are spending billions of tax dollars a day, which could be put to use in solving our vast economic problems at home.
It is time that we should be insisting on two things -- first, that major changes be carried out by the Afghan government to stamp out graft and bribery and institute democratic reforms and that our assistance be contingent on such changes being implemented.
Second, we should also demand that the burden of our Afghan undertaking now be shared more broadly than just between us and our few NATO allies. It is time that the nations in the region, including Russia, Iran, China, and the various "Stans", who are putatively supporting our fight, should now be engaged themselves in this struggle, supplying forces and resources to defeat the enemy. After all, we are safeguarding them right now them against their own bitter enemies -- religious extremists and drug smugglers but getting little thanks in return.
If this situation does not change, then President Obama's reappraisal should certainly forgo any troop increase and instead aim toward gradually pulling out US and NATO forces and handing over to the Afghans the sole responsibility for settling their own internal conflicts.

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