On Sunday night 60 Minutes ran a story entitled, "The Deadliest Weapon." Before that broadcast and the story reported by Bryon Pitts, I had been ambivalent about the war in Afghanistan. But after watching 60 Minutes I decided America cannot win -- no matter how long we stay or how many troops we send; that it's hubris to think our fate will differ from that of Alexander the Great, England, or the Soviet Union.
What pushed me past ambivalence?
It was specifically at that moment during the 60 Minutes story when a soldier told Pitts that the cost of making roadside bombs known as "Improvised Explosive Devices" is $10 but can destroy armored vehicles costing $1,000,000. Something that happens frequently to one or more of the 35 military units assigned to find these Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).
Mr. Pitts told Army Colonel Jeffrey Jarkowsky about one of his soldiers who had been hit by IEDs on the same road three times. The Colonel responded, "Right, well, the enemy is relentless in the way he employs these. And so you can't stop. Ours is a fight of constant, consistent pressure where we have to be relentless just as that enemy is. This is not a fast fight."
So, if $10 roadside bombs (IEDs) can destroy $1,000,000 military vehicles and do it repeatedly, at what point do we decide this isn't working? If you are unable to safely move American troops on Afghan roadways, at what point do images of the roadway to Hell overwhelm us?
This may not be Vietnam's "Quagmire", but make no mistake -- this is the Quicksand of Afghanistan. We cannot prevail, even if the President yields to General McChrystal's reported request for 40,000 additional troops.
That's it? I changed my mind because of $10 bombs and $1,000,000 armored vehicles? In a word, "Yes." I did so because cheap bombs and costly vehicles are a window into a wider war, one that has already become the longest in American history.
I understand the hard choice the President faces, the thunder from the right that will roll down upon him; the outrage that will sound from shore-to-shore from sunshine patriots; the charge of cowardice from congressional Republicans -- the very same hypocrites who vote to increase defense spending but against higher taxes -- all of this I get.
Nor have I missed the critical intersection of conflicts that Afghanistan and Pakistan characterize. And yes, I know Pakistan has nuclear weapons and a government greatly challenged by the Taliban. I am further mindful of the argument that America's absence from Afghanistan would destabilize Pakistan, and I'm mindful of the nightmare that would ensue if Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Giliani and his government fell and extremists took power.
But America's continued presence in Afghanistan cannot change those equations.
Even if Mr. Obama granted General McChrystal's request for troop buildup -- say, a number that pushes American forces over 100,000 -- it would be insufficient to complete the military objective. Afghanistan is a country larger than Iraq and if the 140,000 American troops initially sent there by President Bush couldn't accomplish the mission, then by what powers of rational thought could a lesser number in a bigger country with vastly more difficult terrain, succeed?
We failed in Iraq because we did not heed Senator Joseph Biden's or Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki's call for greater numbers than what was committed by the Bush administration. Defense Secretary Rumsfield ignored both the senator and the general, and set our country on a perilous course that remains a grievous wound upon the body politic and stains the soul of America. And when we are finally done with Iraq and the last brave Marine has exited Mesopotamian, it will be judged the worst diplomatic/military failure ever made by any U.S. president, and it will haunt our days and darken our nights, in ways not dissimilar to Vietnam.
Its time to come home and defend America, not from the mountains and valleys of Afghanistan or the wind swept deserts of Iraq, but home to the USA. For the question the president must ultimately decide is whether in saving Afghanistan we run the risk of losing the land we love?
Of Britain's misguided Afghan adventure, Rudyard Kipling wrote:
When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Just roll to your rifle and blow out your brains...
The issue isn't our brave fighting men and women, for they are owed our eternal debt, but rather those who decide who goes to battle and thereby who dies.
This wasn't Mr. Obama's war, but now it is. I implore him to end it.
George Mitrovich is a San Diego civic leader.