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Obama's hesitation on Afghanistan

By Rachel Alexander
web posted November 9, 2009

President Barack Obama is in a difficult position deciding what to do about Afghanistan. Al-Qaida and the Taliban are ramping up their activity in that country, enabled by the chaos in Pakistan. Al-Qaida is rumored to be using its strengthened base in Afghanistan to expand to other parts of the world. Attacks by the Taliban are increasing. IEDs, the deadly roadside bombs, have increased by 350% since 2007, and U.S. deaths are at a record high. 55 were killed in October, 831 total since the U.S. first stationed troops there in 2001 as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. Obama's military general in Afghanistan in charge of NATO operations, U.S. Commander General Stanley McChrystal, has asked the administration for 40,000 additional soldiers in order to effect a new strategy that would focus more on forging alliances with key tribal leaders than combat. Without them, McChrystal warns that the war in Afghanistan will result in failure. McChrystal asked for the surge of troops in September, Obama has still not responded.

Obama's quandary is that he is a liberal Democrat who opposes most military engagements. Obama opposed the Iraq War from the beginning, and ran for President as the Democrats' antiwar candidate, pledging to take U.S. soldiers out of Iraq soon. Making things more difficult, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last month to Obama in a transparent effort to put pressure on him to avoid military action in situations like this. Obama did suggest when running for President that he would transfer US troops from Iraq to Pakistan to hunt down al-Qaida, but no one took him seriously.

The war appears to be winnable. This is different than engaging militarily with North Korea or Iran which have nuclear programs. The Taliban is already outnumbered 12-1 by international troops and Afghan security forces. There are currently over 100,000 international troops stationed there, of which 68,000 are Americans and 200,000 Afghan soldiers. McChrystal's plan is to have the additional forces focus on protecting civilians and depriving the Taliban of popular support. Soldiers will work on befriending tribal leaders in each village, and then communicate through them to their friends and relatives in other villages and across enemy lines. Fighting the Taliban is different than fighting a traditional enemy because it is not easily identifiable; its allies may at any given time include tribes it was formerly fighting against, as loyalties ebb and flow and new alliances are made. It is not uncommon for brothers to be on opposing sides, but if a network is set up to take advantage of these kinds of family connections, agreements can be worked out among local tribes to stop Taliban forces from attacking them. American forces are already working with Afghan forces to bring insurgents over to their side with offers of amnesty, cash and jobs. Over 8,000 insurgents so far have taken advantage of it.

Some experts believe even more troops are necessary. Retired Army Col. Peter Mansoor, who helped oversee the "surge" of troops into Iraq in 2007-2008, thinks a total of 600,000 security personnel is necessary in Afghanistan in order to provide a ratio of one for every 50 people. Based on hindsight in Vietnam and Iraq, it might be safer to go with the higher number of soldiers.

It is true that the U.S. has a checkered history of supporting various sides in Afghanistan, but this time is different, with more compelling circumstances due to the additional heightened threat al-Qaida poses. In the late 1970's, the U.S. supported various Afghan armed opposition groups known as the Mujahedeen against the communist-controlled government. The Mujahedeen subscribed to radical Islamic ideologies, and recruited Muslims from other countries to assist them, including al-Qaida members. When the Soviet Union eventually pulled out of Afghanistan in 1989, the Mujahedeen took power.

The Mujahedeen were unable to consolidate power, and by the mid 1990's, Afghanistan was back in chaos, with corrupt, lawless warring tribes running rampant across the country. The U.S. supported the Taliban in a takeover in 1996, hoping that a top-down militaristic government would provide some order. The Taliban is composed primarily of radical Sunni Muslims from the Pashtun tribe. By 1997 it was clear the Taliban was no better than the warlords; adopting many of their tactics, instituting Sharia law, and targeting other ethnic groups. Afghanistan remains under Taliban leadership today, through elections fraught with corruption. The Taliban's failure to control the warring tribes is providing a haven for al-Qaida to operate and expand its operations.

The left is trying to make comparisons to Vietnam, in order to demoralize the American public and turn public support against a military presence in Afghanistan. This kind of comparison belittles the thousands of American soldiers who lost their lives in Vietnam. 831 deaths is not anywhere near the same league as 58,000 deaths. Criticism of the financial cost is valid, but financial cost has never been a major concern to those on the left.

It is peculiar why Obama, rated the most liberal Senator in the entire U.S. Senate in 2007 by National Journal, is hesitating on deciding whether to send over additional U.S. soldiers. Ramping up our military presence there goes against his core liberal philosophy and the wishes of his supporters in the Democrat Party. Isn't Obama a principled liberal? Perhaps Obama is hesitating because he realizes that contrary to what his left wing philosophy teaches, Afghanistan is winnable, without losing massive American lives, and he would rather be remembered as the president who won in Afghanistan rather than the president who gave up and deserted it. Especially if leaving Afghanistan results in another horrendous American tragedy from an empowered al-Qaida. ESR Rachel Alexander and her brother Andrew are co-Editors of Intellectual Conservative. Rachel practices law in Phoenix, Arizona and blogs for GOPUSA.com. She has been published in the American Spectator, Townhall.com, Fox News, NewsMax, Accuracy in Media, The Americano, ParcBench, and other publications.


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