Many of those advocating drawing down from Afghanistan argue that we have been fighting in Afghanistan for eight years, and if we haven't won the war by now, we never will. The reality is that the White House has only really dedicated the effort to win for just over eight weeks, not eight years. This a worthy cause. Only if we control the ground in Afghanistan can we hunt and kill Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The men and women who served on the ground in Afghanistan who have risked and often sacrificed their lives since the awful events of September 11th have been trying to win from the very beginning, but over time they were abandoned by a Bush Administration more interested in taking the fight to Iraq. Now the Obama administration is trying to salvage America's War in Afghanistan, which we've been truly fighting for only eight weeks, after the Bush Administration basically lost the war over eight years.
The Obama Administration is about to announce a major increase in our troop levels to Afghanistan. Voices on both the left and the right are emerging in opposition to our efforts to control the ground in Afghanistan so we can hunt and defeat al Qaeda and their Taliban hosts. Many such opponents and supposedly impartial observers, from across the political spectrum (The Nation, George Will and Time Magazine) have taken to calling the war in Afghanistan "Obama's War." They have laid the success or failure of the conflict at the feet of the eight-month-old Presidency of Barack Obama. This view misplaces the credit of how catastrophically the Bush administration failed in Afghanistan, and how much of a fully national effort will be required to turn this debacle around.
When the horrific remains of the World Trade Center were still smoldering and America's rage was still visceral, the entire country was ready and willing to commit to total victory in Afghanistan. Instead, despite the absolute proof that this was the central front against al Qaeda and its ilk, Afghanistan was never a conservative priority. Even before we fully secured the entire country in December of 2001, resources were being diverted for Iraq. Senator John McCain's view as far back as 2003 was that we could simply "muddle through Afghanistan," because Iraq was what mattered.
The situation in Afghanistan is terrible right now, and we distinctly are not winning at the moment, but that does not mean that hope is lost and it does not mean that trying to win is not worth the effort and tragic sacrifices required. As a Marine veteran of Iraq who watched a comrade buried last week at Arlington who lost his life in Afghanistan, I am acutely aware of the price.
According to Admiral Mullen, the Taliban today is "much more capable and much more potent than it was back [in 2001]...and it is much broader than it was back then, and much deeper." The Taliban has learned to adapt to us and has become battle-hardened without being defeated. It was akin to taking one-twentieth of the prescribed medication for a terminal, yet curable virus. If you fully-resourced the cure, you'd be healed. Instead, the virus morphed, adapted and has become even more virulent, lethal and resistant to all forms of medication.
A couple of Army Rangers shockingly described to Admiral Mullen their respect for the Taliban's fighting capabilities, "They said it was like fighting the [United States] Marines. The Taliban were well trained, better organized, much tougher fighters than they'd been in the past." Despite the current dire situation, we must as an entire nation rededicate ourselves to the struggle. The forces we are trying to defeat have killed or wounded over 11,000 civilians in the United States and around the world over the past twelve years. They will continue to do so until we neutralize them.
Unfortunately, the Bush Administration strategy effectively empowered and strengthened these extremists. For eight long years we haven't even tried to defeat al Qaeda and the Taliban. With President Obama at the helm, we've only begun to implement a strategy designed to succeed for a mere eight weeks. If we continue to give it our full attention over a two year period, we possibly can set the stage to defeat these extremists. But we have yet to even try. In the end, if President Obama pulls the rabbit out of the hat, it will be because he involved the full force of American military and civilian resources. Even then, it won't be "Obama's War." It is and will remain America's War.