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December 7, 2009

Quagmire or Necessity?

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

President Barack Obama laid out his plan for a troop increase in Afghanistan this past week in a prime time speech from the United States Military Academy at West Point New York.


Following a request from his on-the-ground commander for a major troop buildup (reports vary between 30,000 and 80,000), the president settled for the lower threshold. He held a series of lengthy strategy sessions with his national security team, and took his sweet time in making the final decision.


Critics attacked this as an unnecessary delay that jeopardized the safety of troops currently stationed in that country. Conservative pundits ranted that our president was “dithering” in the face of a Taliban regime resurgence. President Obama was accused of making this political by worrying about liberal reaction more than troop protection.


Baloney! Pure and unadulterated bovine residue. The only ones making this political were the conservative pundits. Why wouldn’t we give the guy the time he needs to ask whatever questions he thinks are important and get the answers he needs to do his job?


Besides, Vice President Joe Biden was in attendance at all of those strategy sessions. You may or may not know, but Vice President Biden is known for his agonizingly adept gift of gab. As a former Delawarean, I can recall listening to Biden speeches. One word: AGONY! I wouldn’t be surprised if President Obama’s delay in deciding wasn’t due in large measure to Vice President Biden’s penchant for filibustering and speechifying.


So, the President plans to send 30,000 American soldiers into Afghanistan to root out the Taliban regime once and for all, and wants to do it in 18 months. Stop…take a few minutes, and then re-read that sentence you just blasted through.


There’s a history here, and it’s not good. Several major powers over time have entered this region with the express intent of eliminating the influence of radical Muslims and terrorists. Most recent (before us, of course) were the Russians. Just ask them how well that worked out for them.


Given the enormity of this decision, and the high potential for failure, the White House media and outreach machine went into overdrive. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs (does anyone other than me want to slap the smirk off this knucklehead’s face) had the talking points down pat:


The Bushies “under-resourced” the war effort;


Vice President Dick Chaney never met an international conflict he didn’t want to fight;


The Bushies rushed helter-skelter into war planning; and


The Bushies sacrificed the Taliban fight to knock over Saddam Hussein in Iraq.


Unfortunately, they forgot to sell the liberal members of Congress on the strategic benefits of sending another 30,000 young men and women into Afghanistan. As soon as they could round-up a bank of microphones and cameras, anti-war representatives and senators gathered to question the logic of the decision.


The hardest question to answer: What happens if, after 18 months of dangerous work, our forces still have not reduced/eliminated the Taliban regime? What if the counter-insurgency effort simply drives Taliban commanders (such as they are) into the Pashtun region of Pakistan and into a cave to wait out the U.S. forces?


Remember the NBC Nightly News during the 80’s? Tom Brokaw often spoke about the bravery of the Afghan mujahedeen resistance in standing up to the awesome power of the Russian army. How will the American people withstand that same kind of imagery featuring our forces? The Vietnam comparison, while not entirely accurate (for many reasons), is unavoidable.


An aspect of the president’s speech was very compelling. He made the point (several times) that this is not a war of convenience, but a conflict born of necessity. He talked about how the 9/11 murderers were all trained to carry out their attacks in Afghanistan, and that the plot was actually devised by Osama Bin Laden and his lieutenants on Afghan soil. President Obama clearly believes that the fires that stoked the worst terrorist attack in American history are still ablaze in Afghanistan, and he’s probably right. In point of fact, that flame may be eternal.


His logic: Let’s go fight them there, so we can avoid fighting them here. Wait, isn’t that a familiar refrain from 2001-2002? Wasn’t that the prelude to the beginning of this conflict?


Army generals are trained and paid to study intelligence, assess the ground situation, and advise their civilian leaders on the best course of action to achieve the desired outcome. In this case, they suggest that a surge of U.S. armed forces will allow them to pursue the Taliban fighters and foreign terrorists, creating a stable environment in which anti-Taliban citizens can live safely and determine their own form of governance.


There’s just too much history in this part of the world to suggest that an 18-month surge of 30,000 U.S. forces, coupled with another 10,000 international troops, will actually facilitate the elimination of a movement born out of a fanatical religious fervor and desperate self-preservation.


Can our young president’s administration withstand the negative scrutiny if the conflict sours, the death toll escalates, and the news features his frequent trips to Dover Air Base to welcome home flights of fallen soldiers?


Maybe he’s counting on the fawning national news media to downplay this quagmire angle, but that might be an even riskier strategy than sending in the troops in the first place!


Yellow Cab
The Morning News Express with Bob Miller
The Covert Letter

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