We’ve said what we’re going to do in Afghanistan. Now, how will the Taliban and al Qaida respond?
ASK THIS | December 07, 2009
President Obama is going to start hearing this question every day for a long time: ‘Why are we still fighting in Afghanistan when we have so many other problems at home?’
By George C. Wilson
What will al-Qaida and the Taliban do in response to President Obama’s decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan by putting 100,000 U.S. troops on the ground there?
The options the bad guys have are scary and impossible to stop. The Vietcong demonstrated this in 1968 when I humped around with U.S. troops in Vietnam for The Washington Post. I saw how a South Vietnamese farmer could tend his rice paddy by day and burn down at night the barn U.S. money had built in his hamlet or village. Villagers who cooperated with American occupiers were routinely killed.
This set of bad guys in Afghanistan can not only commit atrocities but beam the results around our wired new world.
It is not as if Obama is waging a one-sided fight for the hearts and minds of people in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan. Al-Qaida and the Taliban will respond sooner or later to his surge because, rightly or wrongly, we are back to the tit-for-tat strategy when the Vietnam War was escalating.
If al-Qaida and Taliban commanders decide that showing the world pictures of Afghans beheaded because they cooperated with U.S. forces would reduce Obama’s following rather than galvanize it, they will not hesitate. The same calculation will be made about televising pictures of mutilated GIs. War is not nice.
To keep from being a one-termer, Obama will have to answer the same question again and again the rest of this term: Why are we still fighting in Afghanistan when we have so many other problems at home? We’ve been there eight years already for no good reason.
Andrew Bacevich, a professor at Boston University and retired Army colonel and Vietnam veteran, is at the forefront of those who saw no good coming out of Obama’s surge. His argument against putting more boots on the ground was this: “The tribal chiefs who actually run Afghanistan are best positioned to prevent terrorist networks from establishing a large-scale presence. As a backup, intensive surveillance complimented with precision punitive strikes (assuming we can manage to kill the right people) will suffice to disrupt al-Qaida’s plans. Certainly that approach offers a cheaper and more efficient alternative to establishing a large-scale and long-term U.S. ground presence which, as the U.S. campaigns in both Iraq and Afghanistan have demonstrated, has the unintended effect of handing jihadists a recruiting tool that they are quick to exploit.”
If our lawmakers really mean to look before they leap to support Obama’s escalation, they owe it to themselves and the rest of us to call in terrorism experts to testify about what they think al-Qaida and the Taliban will do next in response to this surge. It’s important to look through the other end of the telescope. Both the good guys and the bad guys are fighting for hearts and minds.
These are among the key questions: Will the bad guys just slip across the border to Pakistan to further terrorize that country to the point its fragile government falls and loses control over its nukes? What are the chances of suicide bombers coming to the United States to blow up Obama’s motorcade? Or a congressional dinner? Or a Wall Street crowd during lunch hour? Would televised pictures of terrorists’ atrocities galvanize or turn off the public about supporting Obama’s new war in Afghanistan?
The big difference between President Lyndon Johnson’s escalation in Vietnam and Obama’s is that the establishment’s sons are not being drafted to fight in a country that does not threaten us directly.
The fighting and dying are being done mostly by our out-of-sight, out-of-mind version of the French Foreign Legion, the all-volunteer force.
There has been no national referendum on going to war for more than half a century. Congress has turned over its constitutional power to declare war to a series of presidents. George W. Bush invaded Iraq in 2003 to capture weapons that did not exist and Obama has made Afghanistan his war with a half-pregnant promise to start withdrawing troops, maybe, in July 2011.
Richard Nixon backed out of the Vietnam quagmire by turning the war over to the South Vietnamese military under what he called Vietnamization. Obama is going to try the same thing with Afghanization.
I see the same three flaws dooming both “izations:” (1) Lack of public respect for South Vietnam’s and Afghanistan’s central governments; (2) Lack of motivation and skill in the native military; (3) Lack of patience by the American people for wars that seem endless and irrelevant to their daily lives.
Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would dismiss me as one of those “quagmire guys.” But I’ll go with one of the few wise men on Vietnam, the late Brigadier Gen. Bruce Palmer, Jr., who knew war up close and personal, not as a peacetime, stateside instructor pilot like Rumsfeld.
“With respect to Vietnam,” Palmer, in his book “The 25-Year War,” wisely wrote: “Our leaders should have known that the American people would not stand still for a protracted war of an indeterminate nature with no foreseeable end to the U. S. commitment.” That’s on Page 190 if members of Congress want to look it up.
Hope against hope or much ado about nothing?
Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi
12/08/2009, 05:36 AM
I totally agree with the Andrew Bacevich perception regarding the reservations or expostulation that he has logically crafted with regard to the Obama administration's policy of sending more troops to Afghanistan.By all sane arguments/ramifications, this policy of "new surge" would provide no fruitful/expedient solution to the Afghan problem. The new policy of sending more troops seems to infer or experiment nothing but "putting old wine in new bottles".