Things I was wrong about in 2005
Things I was wrong about in 2005
Charlie Manuel (see below).
That third one is a tad more important than the other two. It was hard to argue with the rationale for invading Afghanistan in 2001. America had been attacked by a terrorist organization whose leader had been given a safe haven there, in a rogue nation where terrorists were still training to attack this country as they did on 9/11. The idea of a "good war" is an oxymoron, but there are times military intervention is warranted -- rolling back naked aggression (World War II), preventing ongoing campaigns of genocide, especially in a defined region (like Bosnia or Darfur), or self-defense. Invading Afghanistan not only met the third criterion, but it seems to offer the added benefit of promoting democracy and human rights -- especially for women -- in a brutal corner of the world where those things did not exist.
And so some people (most of them liberals) started complaining as early as 2002 that the Bush administration had "taken its eye off the ball" by shifting virtually all of its attention to Iraq -- which didn't meet any rationale for a just war -- and away from Afghanistan before the mission had been completed. Not only had Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar and other terrorist leaders not been captured, but not enough was being done to stabilize the nation in a way that -- many believed at the time, perhaps naively -- would have allowed democracy to take root.
For most of the Bush years, Afghanistan was in a kind of limbo. There were troops there but the mission was muddled to the point where the U.S. and its allies fell into a strategy of using massive air strikes to protect those soldiers and achieve certain limited objectives -- which killed hundreds of civilians and created a new generation of America haters, i.e., making the U.S. less secure in the long run. (This is well-documented in David Rohde's excellent new New York Times series on his kidnapping there.)
These poorly thought-out policies have been continued to date by the Obama administration. In fact, Obama was elected in 2008 pledging to make Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan the priority that he and many others believed that it should have been in 2002, which is why he announced he would be sending 20,000 additional troops and hasn't ruled out sending more. In the old days, people always accused the Pentagon of "fighting the last war." In the 21st Century, most regrettably, American wars drag on so long that we try to re-fight the same war, as it existed seven long years ago. It's time to give up on the idea of winning the 2002 war in Afghanistan. In 2009, there is -- at the minimum -- no rational justification for sending additional troops to the region. The ultimate goal should be reducing our presence there to one that makes sense, which is a lot closer to zero than what it is today.
There's an excellent piece out today from a British journalist from the Indepedent who knows Afghanistan well. Jonathan Hari says the "best" arguments for increasing troops there are largely a myth -- that the plight of women has not improved since the U.S. military action, that there aren't many al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan right now and nothing we do there is really going to affect the ability of terrorists to attack the United States one way or the other. He notes that:
Yes, there is real risk in going - but it is dwarfed by the risk of staying. A bloody escalation in the war is more likely to fuel jihadism than thwart it. If Obama is serious about undermining this vile fanatical movement, it would be much wiser to take the hundreds of billions he is currently squandering on chasing after a hundred fighters in the Afghan mountains and redeploy it. Spend it instead on beefing up policing and intelligence, and on building a network of schools across Pakistan and other flash-points in the Muslim world, so parents there have an alternative to the fanatical madrassahs that churn out bin Laden-fodder. The American people will be far safer if the world sees them building schools for Muslim kids instead of dropping bombs on them.
Common sense, but I doubt that is what President Obama will do. Everything we know -- both about Obama's style of governing (and politics, perhaps more importantly) and about the American presidency in general since the Cold War era -- suggests that he will double down in Afghanistan, to show his "resolve" to the world and (and again, perhaps more importantly) to the American voter. I think this will be a tragic mistake that will lead to the unnecessary deaths of U.S. troops and of innocent civilians in Afghanistan, at the cost of encouraging more Muslims to become anti-American jihadists. To avoid that will mean seeing the region for what it is today, not for what we thought it was in 2005.
Kind of like Charlie Manuel. Only more important.