Last night, President Barack Obama said he will deploy another 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. But he has ordered that the troop increase come with a built-in exit strategy. I am reminded of a statement made during the conflict in Vietnam by a young John Kerry to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:
"How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"
The mistake made in Vietnam--as in Afghanistan--is the erroneous assumption proffered by our political and military elite that these countries constitute a vital U.S. national security interest. Policymakers forget that al Qaeda attacked America on 9/11, and unless Pakistan makes a corresponding effort to go after the al Qaeda sanctuary on their side of the border then America's massive and tremendously costly nation-building campaign in Afghanistan is pointless.
After all, in Pakistan's latest offensive in South Waziristan it is clear that their military has no intention of going after the original Afghan Taliban, much less al Qaeda. Pakistan has very different objectives in Afghanistan. This means stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan--however it is defined--will not be achieved until Islamabad realizes that its future security does not lie in covertly funding Islamist proxies. This is an issue that must be resolved diplomatically, not militarily. And any dialogue would have to address India's increasing influence in Afghanistan, which Pakistan has always viewed as its backyard. It appears (at least to this author) that U.S. policymakers cannot offer any array of inducements sufficient enough to persuade Pakistan to relinquish support for proxies with whom they have associated for the past 30 years. We should be asking "Why should they?" at least according to their own decision making calculus. Moreover, while U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan's restive tribal areas have killed a number of high-value al Qaeda operatives, they have also reinforced al Qaeda's Pashtun base of support and further radicalized the very jihadist forces America seeks to defeat.
As for the issue at hand, the aimless mission in Afghanistan, Carlo Ungaro, a former Italian diplomat who spent sixteen years serving in Afghanistan, questions whether a centralized presidential republic is a feasible system for the country. But the diplomat also brings up several more interesting observations:
"As I observed over my 16 years in the country, the Afghans are a patient people: it took almost ninety years for them to convince the British that any attempt permanently to occupy the country would be futile, and they also fought the Soviet invasion for almost a decade...Whether or not there were also covert reasons to encourage the United States and at least some of its NATO allies into extending the Afghan operation from a simple surgical strike against Al Qaida [sic] into a 'regime change' venture is open to conjecture, and constitutes one of those subjects seldom approached by international commentators [emphasis mine]."
"The US is running a $1.4 trillion budget deficit...US national debt has now surpassed the $12 trillion mark...The Afghanistan War has already cost about $250 billion and is steadily climbing...[and] since Obama was elected, the US Dollar has lost about 10% of its value, and is approaching its all-time record low set back in early 2008. Since 2002, the US Dollar has plummeted by about 37%."
"The American army is really a people's army in the sense that it belongs to the American people. ... When the army is committed the American people are committed; when the American people lose their commitment, it is futile to try to keep the army committed."
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