Obama’s war in AfghanistanHistory is full of ironies, but none greater than this. In February 1989, then-Deputy CIA Director
By: Bill Press, The Dickinson Press
History is full of ironies, but none greater than this. In February 1989, then-Deputy CIA Director Robert Gates helped arm freedom fighters in Afghanistan with cash, weapons and intelligence to chase out Soviet troops. As Gates wrote in his memoirs, when the last Soviet soldier left — ending an occupation that lasted nine years, seven weeks and three days — “Afghanistan was at last free of the foreign invader.”
Well, not quite. Today, as President Obama’s secretary of defense, Gates is helping send more American troops to Afghanistan, continuing a presence that has already lasted seven and a half years and is expected to outlast the Soviet occupation. The foreign invader is back. For Americans, it’s good-bye Iraq and hello, Afghanistan.
For Obama, the they were always the bad war and the good war. During the campaign, every time criticized the war in Iraq, he lamented the fact that we never did finish the war in Afghanistan.
It should have come as no surprise, then, that soon after President Obama ordered the winding down of the war in Iraq, he immediately moved to ramp back up the war in Afghanistan. What is surprising, though, is how many troops he’s sending, what their mission is, and how long they’re likely to remain.
President Obama has not only called for a significant widening of the war in Afghanistan, he has also expanded U.S. military operations into Pakistan. We are now fighting the war in both countries. And it is Barack Obama’s war.
The president unveiled his new policy the morning after receiving results of the two-month review of Afghanistan he ordered shortly after taking office. Earlier, even before the “review” began, he had ordered an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan, increasing by 50 percent the number of American forces already on the ground.
On March 27, Obama announced he was sending still 4,000 more troops to Afghanistan, but only for the purpose of training the Afghan military (sound familiar?). An administration spokesman later said the president would decide this fall whether to send an additional 10,000 troops, growing American forces from 34,000 today to over 65,000 by the end of the year.
At the same time, Obama spelled out his new mission for American forces: “So I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida in Pakistan and Afghanistan.” Note the mention of both countries. It’s now being called the “Af-Pak Strategy.” And it raises even more questions: What’s the exit strategy? Can we win this war? What constitutes victory? So far, no answers.
Granted, al-Qaida still poses a serious threat to the United States. When we turned our attention to Iraq, al-Qaida never went away. In fact, it profited from our excursion into Iraq in order to recruit, regroup, rearm and relocate in both countries. And you cannot shut down terrorists in Afghanistan as long as they enjoy safe havens just over the border in Pakistan.
Does that mean we are also sending American troops to Pakistan? The administration says no. But if not, how are we going to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat” al-Qaida in Pakistan? When asked that question on my radio show, experts say we’ll depend on a combination of the Pakistani government and unmanned drones.
Get serious. Over the last eight years, the leaders of Pakistan, despite $11 billion in American aid, have done nothing about terrorism but look the other way while al-Qaida and the Taliban took over territory on the Afghan-Pakistan border. Do we really expect them now to rush in and clean out terrorists? And if we can wipe out al-Qaida in Pakistan by aerial bombs only, why send any more troops to Afghanistan? Send more drones instead.
The whole Af-Pak strategy just doesn’t add up. Before we blindly veer from one endless war to the next, Americans would do well to take a long look at history. As Secretary Gates knows better than anyone, Afghanistan is known as “the graveyard of empires.”
Alexander the Great, Genghis Kahn, the British and the Soviet Union all attempted to control Afghanistan and left in humiliation. We’re kidding ourselves if we believe we can succeed where they failed.
— Press is host of a nationally syndicated radio show and author of “Train Wreck: The End of the Conservative Revolution (and Not a Moment Too Soon).”