Obama Must Get Afghanistan Right By Katrina Vanden Heuvel

Obama Must Get Afghanistan Right
posted by Katrina vanden Heuvel on 01/08/2009

President-elect Barack Obama not only had the good judgment to oppose the war in Iraq, he argued for the need "to end the mindset that took us into" that war. So it's troubling that he ramped up his rhetoric during the campaign about exiting Iraq in order to focus on what he calls the "central front in the war on terror"--Afghanistan. His plan now calls for an escalation of 20,000 to 30,000 additional American troops over the next year--nearly doubling the current 32,000.

New York Times columnist Tom Friedman criticized the Dems' position on Afghanistan as ill-conceived "bumper sticker politics." Too many of the leading Dems have become part of a poorly reasoned bipartisan consensus that threatens to entrap the US in another costly occupation--a war that New York Times columnist Bob Herbert describes as "more than seven years old and which long ago turned into a quagmire." It currently costs the Pentagon $2 billion per month to support the US troops in Afghanistan. An escalation would drain resources that are vital to President-elect Obama's goals for an economic recovery, health care, and social justice at home, while impeding other critical international initiatives such as the Middle East Peace process and a regional diplomacy in South Asia.

Once again, as in the run-up to the War in Iraq, too few people in Congress and the mainstream media are asking tough questions. There are some notable exceptions--see Friedman and Herbert--and in Congress, there's Senator Russ Feingold who writes in a recent op-ed:

Few people seem willing to ask whether the main solution that's being talked about- sending more troops to Afghanistan--will actually work. If the devastating policies of the current administration have proved anything, it's that we need to ask tough questions before deploying our brave service members--and that we need to be suspicious of Washington 'group think.' Otherwise, we are setting ourselves up for failure.

There are strategic reasons to oppose a military escalation and occupation. On national security grounds, a US occupation would be counterproductive to the stated goal of defeating Al Qaeda. The moment for action against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan was immediately after 9/11. Now, Al Qaeda operates out of Pakistan, and the key to reining it in lies with a democratic Pakistani government. Andrew Bacevich, a retired Army colonel and a professor of history and international relations at Boston University, wrote about the "sinkhole" of Afghanistan in Newsweek:

The chief effect of military operations in Afghanistan so far has been to push radical Islamists across the Pakistani border. As a result, efforts to stabilize Afghanistan are contributing to the destabilization of Pakistan, with potentially devastating implications.... To risk the stability of that nuclear-armed state in the vain hope of salvaging Afghanistan would be a terrible mistake."

US occupation is also exacerbating tensions in South Asia where the Kashmir conflict and Mumbai attacks have nuclear-armed Pakistan and India at "each others' throats."

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