Sunday, January 25, 2009

Obama's Afghanistan

In the first few days of his administration, President Obama acted decisively on issues close to the hearts of his liberal supporters: he banned the use of torture, he delayed the Military Commission "trials," he ordered the closure of Guantanamo Bay, and he ordered a full review of detention policies and procedures currently in place. Was this a "thank you" bouquet for those of us on the left? Perhaps, but I think it was more of an announcement to the rest of the world that his foreign policy would be markedly different from that of his predecessor. To underscore that announcement, he also selected two special envoys: one to the Middle East and one to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Unfortunately, for those on the left who believe that the war in Afghanistan (which has been prosecuted longer than the one in Iraq, something we tend to forget) is just as wrong-headed as the one in Iraq, there will be no dramatic change. Candidate Obama promised to shift forces from Iraq to Afghanistan in order to more effectively fight that war. President Obama has made it clear, special envoy or not, that he intends to keep that campaign promise as well. In that regard, he is making the same mistake that President Bush made, namely that the Global War on Terror must be prosecuted as a shooting war. That just might turn out to be his first and most tragic mistake as President.

Former Senator George McGovern had an interesting op-ed piece in, of all places, the Washington Post on Thursday, January 22, 2009. In this column, Sen. McGovern (a World War II veteran) urges President Obama to forget about "winning" in Afghanistan, using history as part of the analysis.

It is logical to conclude that our massive military dominance and supposedly good motives should let us work our will in Afghanistan. But logic does not always prevail in South Asia. With belligerent Afghan warlords sitting atop each mountain glowering at one another, the one factor that could unite them is the invasion of their country by a foreign power, whether British, Russian or American.

The British learned this lesson the hard way, as did the Soviet Union. Are we the next superpower to go down in flames because we expended our fortune and the lives of a generation in search of some kind of illusory victory over the forces of terrorism? Sen. McGovern certainly thinks that a probable outcome, so he urges a real change in approach:

I have believed for some time that military power is no solution to terrorism. The hatred of U.S. policies in the Middle East -- our occupation of Iraq, our backing for repressive regimes such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, our support of Israel -- that drives the terrorist impulse against us would better be resolved by ending our military presence throughout the arc of conflict. This means a prudent, carefully directed withdrawal of our troops from Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and elsewhere. We also need to close down the imposing U.S. military bases in this section of the globe, which do so little to expand our security and so much to stoke local resentment. ...

So let me suggest a truly audacious hope for your administration: How about a five-year time-out on war -- unless, of course, there is a genuine threat to the nation?

During that interval, we could work with the U.N. World Food Program, plus the overseas arms of the churches, synagogues, mosques and other volunteer agencies to provide a nutritious lunch every day for every school-age child in Afghanistan and other poor countries. Such a program is now underway in several countries approved by Congress and the United Nations, under the auspices of the George McGovern-Robert Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Act. (Forgive the self-serving title.) Although the measure remains painfully underfunded, with the help of other countries, we are reaching millions of children. We could supplement these efforts with nutritional packages for low-income pregnant and nursing mothers and their infants from birth through the age of 5, as is done here at home by WIC, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.

Too expensive a plan during a period of economic difficulty? An extended war in Afghanistan, and it would be extended by all accounts, will be far more expensive, as Iraq should have taught us. Hundreds of billions of dollars expended to fight in Afghanistan will undo every bit of good that President Obama hoped to accomplish with the various changes announced the first few days he was in office. We will, instead, continue to read of civilian casualties caused by errant bombs and murky intelligence (like this one in today's Los Angeles Times).

We don't need another War Time President. We need a President strong enough and wise enough to bring peace to that part of the world. And that means we need to make it clear to President Obama that the war in Afghanistan is not the answer to the question of terrorism.

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Blogger Woody (Tokin Librul/Rogue Scholar/ Helluvafella!) said...

I was sure relieved to learn Prez.O had waited only two days to drench his administration in the blood of the innocents.

I was only disappointed that it wasn't a wedding party whose members were slaughtered; just some plain, old civilians. Those drone pilots facing the danger of war from Las Vegas and Pasadena need more training...

6:19 AM  
Blogger Cosa Nostradamus said...

Word is, Obama is looking to shake things up politically within Afghanistan. Whether this is part of an exit strategy or another step toward prolonging the war is the question.

My little story is finished. Or is it?

6:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, as long as there is an opium crop to profit from, the c.i.a. will be in Afghanistan.
Five years of peace? That's a beginning. How about a generation of peace? How about 170 years of peace? A comment I left on Elaine's blog:
Uruguay has a 100% import duty on anything not manufactured in country. In the 1950s Uruguay had a higher standard of living than the US. Uruguay has not been in a war since the 1830s. Uruguay had universal suffrage before the US. Education in Uruguay is compulsory through the 10th grade; college is free. Some of these points may be related.

9:41 AM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

Great catch on the op-ed Diane. I've been saying this for decades. Bread, not bombs. It could work if only someone had the courage to try it.

7:50 AM  
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