One of President-elect Obama’s biggest headaches may come in an area not now regarded as a top tier problem–Afghanistan. Obama wants to send 10,000 to 20,000 more troops to Afghanistan.
Obama campaigned hard on getting Bin Laden and sending more troops into Afghanistan. His position (and that of the Democratic Party platform, p. 29) is that Afghanistan is the central battlefield in the war on terrorism.
“Obama: ‘For at least a year now, I have called for two additional brigades, perhaps three,’ he said. ‘I think it's very important that we unify command more effectively to coordinate our military activities. But military alone is not going to be enough.
“‘The Afghan government needs to do more. But we have to understand that the situation is precarious and urgent here in Afghanistan. And I believe this has to be our central focus, the central front, on our battle against terrorism.’
. . .
“Logan: ‘What would be a 'mission accomplished' for you in Afghanistan?
“Obama: ‘Well, a 'mission accomplished' would be that we had stabilized Afghanistan, that the Afghan people are experiencing rising standards of living, that we have made sure that we are disabling al-Qaeda and the Taliban so that they can longer attack Afghanistan, they can no longer engage in attacks against targets of Pakistan, and they can't target the United States or its allies.’
“Logan ‘Losing is not an option?’
“Obama: ‘Losing is not an option when it comes to al-Qaeda. And it never has been. And that's why the fact that we engaged in a war of choice when were not yet finished with that task was such a mistake.’”
In consequence, Obama has called for a surge-like strategy in Afghanistan. But, will this result in the sort of military quagmire that President Bush appears to have avoided in Iraq?
Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in a recent op-ed writes that the success of the surge in Iraq does not mean that the same surge strategy will work in Afghanistan.
Rumsfeld notes that the success of the surge in Iraq was the result of a number of hard years of building a solid base in Iraq for defeating the insurgents in terms of:
1. Sunnis turning against Al Qaeda
2. huge losses in Al Qaeda and Baathist leadership and manpower
3. the Iraqi government’s commitment to and increasing success in defanging sectarian militias
4. the increased capability of Iraqi security forces
But, as Rumsfeld notes, Afghanistan has a different set of needs:
1. Afghanistan is much bigger than Iraq [almost 1-1/2 times the size], but has only 1/4th the security forces
2. Afghanistan lacks the economic base that Iraq has in its oil resources
3. Afghanistan’s major industry is narcotics-based which adds drug traffickers to the Taliban, Al Qaeda insurgent mix
4. terrorist have sanctuaries in Pakistan with easy access into Afghanistan
Thus, the key may not be more American troops, at least not initially, but a significant increase in the number of well trained Afghan troops able to protect the Afghan population and fight Al Qaeda, the Taliban and narcotics traffickers.
Will President Obama have the political will to stick with a war in Afghanistan that extends 5, 6, or 7 years with few, if any, victory markers until near the end?
If Iraq maintains its precarious stability and becomes a win for President Bush, it will be especially hard for Obama to pull out of Afghanistan without some sort of win.
Anything short of a win could not only sink Obama’s presidential ratings, but also ensure Bush’s stature already bouyed by not having a second attack on American soil during his presidency and the fragile, but real, progress in Iraq.
How ironic if President Bush picked pursuing the do-able war against terrorism in going into Iraq (especially since Al Qaeda accepted his premise that Iraq was to be their center of conflict) and President Obama, even with the 20/20 hindsight of Iraq, picked pursuing the harder, maybe impossible, war.
What should conservative reaction be to President Obama's Afghanistan policy in terms of the importance of winning in Afghanistan and the likely cost in American lives and resources?