Maybe it's a generational thing, but as someone who was growing up as LBJ's war was tearing his administration down, I had a pit in my stomach as I watched President Obama announce his "Af-Pak" policy as Secretaries Clinton and Gates watched approvingly at his side.
I can't shake this sinking feeling that what has now become "Obama's War" is a one-way ticket into a quagmire that will undermine if not destroy all too many of the things that we need the president to accomplish on his watch.
Already the news is not good:
Today, the New York Times reported that the Afghan and Pakistan Taliban are burying their differences and uniting their forces to fight the United States in response to our military escalation.
Then there's the report of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, released in January, that concludes that the single most important factor behind the resurgence of the Taliban is the presence of foreign forces on Afghan soil.
But perhaps most ominous of all, the coordinator of the UN Security Council's al Qaeda/Taliban Monitoring Team has reported that one of al Qaeda's immediate aims is to provoke a greater foreign military presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan so that they are better able to unite disparate tribes in fighting a common enemy.
In short, "Obama's War" could already be playing into the hands of al Qaeda and the Taliban, providing them with a cause to build their ranks with Afghans who might otherwise have zero interest. As it turns out, Afghans are famously sensitive to foreign soldiers on their soil -- just ask the Soviets and Brits. They may not be interested in jihad against western infidels, but they don't mind helping getting yet more military occupiers out of their country.
Despite the president's call for marshalling international support, his policy is likely to have just the opposite effect on some of the most important countries in the neighborhood. An indefinite commitment of tens of thousands of US troops on the sensitive borders of Russia and China, for example, will hardly make them eager to join in productive regional diplomacy. Not to mention Iran.
Meanwhile, our NATO allies are increasingly divided, putting the burden of waging this war increasingly on the shoulders of Americans. The sun might have long since set on the British Empire, but they turn out to be the only country that has committed more troops to Afghanistan. Sound familiar? Others, including Canada and the Netherlands, have announced plans to bring their troops home. At least no one is calling this dwindling group the "coalition of the willing".
On top of all that, the "Obama War" is economically unsustainable. Even before the escalation of troops, the cost of our military intervention in Afghanistan is more than $2 billion per month and rising. His announcement that he will be seeking $1.5 billion per year for increased foreign aid to Pakistan is a small fraction of the cost of our military commitment. This could all add up to even more fuel for Blue Dog and Congressional Republican calls for the Congress to start jettisoning as "unrealistic" many of his key domestic initiatives.
Ominously, today's news event made no mention of even some version of an exit strategy, despite the president's admonition last week on 60 Minutes that when it comes to US policy in Afghanistan, "there's got to be an exit strategy." Meanwhile, the president announced his intention to have performance "benchmarks" to hold his policy and the Afghanistan government accountable. Unfortunate, then, that he gave no indication of what these benchmarks might actually be.
Unlike Rush Limbaugh, I want the president to succeed; I want to be able to support his efforts to protect the American people from the threat of al Qaeda. But the policy announced today will fail to do so and, instead, takes a new generation one step deeper into a perilous quagmire.
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