Walking the walk in Afghanistan
During the 2008 presidential campaign, then-candidate Barack Obama repeatedly excoriated the previous administration for their lack of focus on the war in Afghanistan. However, far from being left holding the bag there by George W. Bush, Obama spent nearly two years begging the electorate to be put in charge of it. Which begs the question: At what point do we begin to hold him responsible for what is happening there?
My goal here is not to re-hash the arguments for or against the war in Afghanistan, which is posing a renewed challenge to President Obama. However, there are clear and compelling reasons to ensure that we succeed in this conflict that I believe have been missing from these editorial pages.
Obama is currently considering whether or not to deploy additional troops to Afghanistan. I can appreciate the deliberate nature of the consultative process that he is following, but I contend that he must ultimately decide to deploy the forces requested by his commanders in the field.
In August, in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) in Phoenix, Ariz., Obama made his most definitive statements on the War in Afghanistan. He called it a “war of necessity,” and admitted that a victory for the Taliban would lead to “an even larger safe haven from which al- Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans.” He went on to state that “this is not only a war worth fighting … this is fundamental to the defense of our people.”
On May 6, in a speech following a meeting between Obama, President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, Obama remarked that the goal of the U.S. was not merely to defeat al-Qaeda, but also to support the “democratically-elected” government of Afghanistan. Whatever our reasons for going to war in Afghanistan might have been in the past, Obama made it clear that our focus now is on building a viable democracy there.
In the same speech, Obama said that the U.S. cannot meet these challenges if we delay or “deny the resources necessary to get the job done.” He highlighted the comprehensive nature of his new strategy, which he announced in March, and lauded himself for the fact that “for the first time, this strategy will be matched by the resources that it demands.”
What has changed since May to cause any alteration in Obama’s idea of victory, or his belief that the full weight of America’s military and civilian power must be brought to bear to achieve it? We have heard that the rampant fraud in the recent Afghan elections call for even greater caution in the question of whether to deploy more troops, but I would argue just the opposite.
First of all, while many have claimed that the troop decision must wait for a resolution of the election issue, including our own Sen. John Kerry, this does not jibe with Obama’s strategy thus far. In particular, the deployment of an additional 21,000 troops that Obama announced in March was not tied to the legitimacy of the Afghan electoral process, and neither should the issue of more support now.
In addition, our commitment is to the people of Afghanistan, not to whatever leaders are in power at any given time. As Obama said in May, we must “support the capacity of local governments and stand up to corruption that blocks progress.” As such, the choice to increase military and civilian support must not depend specifically on eliminating all corruption from the Afghan government, but rather upon an assessment of how best to combat that corruption.
Based on these views, how can the president come to any other decision but to provide his handpicked commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, with the forces he needs to achieve success? I can understand that Obama is under tremendous pressure from his political base to end a war that has now lasted longer than America’s war in Vietnam. Yet none of the reasons I have heard for ending the war immediately are convincing.
For example, I have heard it said that the U.S. is making the same mistakes as the Soviet Union, Great Britain and every other “empire” that has tried to “conquer” Afghanistan going all the way back to Alexander the Great. However, as valid as this comparison may seem at first, it does not hold up when one considers the goals that President Obama himself has set out for our current efforts.
This is what sets our efforts apart from past “adventures” in Afghanistan. It is also at the heart of the most compelling reason why it is so critical that we live up to the challenge that Obama has set for us. The plain truth is that we have a moral obligation to leave Afghanistan and its people a better country than they had before we toppled the Taliban.
Just as with Iraq, we “broke” the existing government of Afghanistan, which means that we have a responsibility to “fix” both nations by ensuring that their people are left in a better situation than that before we intervened. We are close to achieving this goal in Iraq, and now we must act to ensure a similar outcome in Afghanistan.
President Obama has spoken as if he accepts this to be true. Now he must make the difficult decisions needed to live up to that commitment.
Ben Rudnick is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.