02 July 2010

Is Michael Steele Right? Should We Withdraw from Afghanistan?

The New York Times blog entitled, The Caucus [July 2, 2010; see: http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/07/02/dust-up-over-steeles-view-of-afghan-war/?nl=us&emc=politicsemailema1], reports that Republican National Committee Chair, Michael Steele, “…drew fierce criticism on Friday after declaring at a party fund-raiser that the United States was on the wrong side of history with its conflict in Afghanistan, a military fight he called “a war of Obama’s choosing.””

Now, I don’t agree with everything Mr. Steele is reported to have said. For example, the Afghan war is not a war of President Obama’s choosing because he inherited it from President Bush. Likewise, President Bush was forced to involve the US in Afghanistan due to the 9-11-2001 attacks by Al Qaeda, which was based in Afghanistan and supported by the Taliban government. We may criticize both presidents about how the US has conducted the war, but the reasons for US involvement are clear to all rational, informed people.

Likewise, I have argued from the beginning of the Iraq war that President Bush rushed into this conflict. Yes, Saddam Hussein had to go, but there was time to work the diplomatic route and, if nothing else, better prepare for the post-conflict nation-building stage of the mission. We were not prepared for the insurgency that followed the successful invasion. Yes, we had reasons to be involved in Iraq, but President Bush did not send our troops into this conflict prepared for the subsequent collapse of the Iraqi government and the insurgency that followed. We need to make sure our military personnel are given every opportunity to win the war and come home alive. President Bush's lack of foresight resulted in unnecessary US casualties, not to mention the scores of Iraqi civilian casualties.

However, I do agree with Mr. Steele that history shows we should not be in a land war in Afghanistan. Wars are not won by military victories, alone. Rather, wars require a political solution in addition to a military victory. If this were not true, then the US would have won the Vietnam War. In that conflict, the US won the significant battles, including the Tet Offensive of 1968. That offensive was a significant military victory for the US and South Vietnam and our allies, but a political victory for the Viet Cong and North Vietnam and their allies. After this, the political debate back home in the US centered on how and when the US should leave Vietnam.

So, if the US and our allies have good reason to be in Afghanistan, and we do have such a reason, then what is the problem? One problem is that the local Afghan populations want a divided nation, and the US wants a stronger central government in Kabul to be sure Al Qaeda does not return to threaten our national security. A divided Afghanistan is hard to govern, just ask the United Kingdom and Russia. Even the Persian Empire found Afghanistan hard to govern. The Taliban are playing this against the US and ISAF allies, and a political solution has not emerged.

Consequently, this war is bleeding the US materially, emotionally, and I also believe spiritually. I hold to a school of thought that the US will likely face a global challenger in the first part of this century. We need to be prepared for this global conflict militarily, economically, and have the will to engage the enemy. Wars like those in Iraq and Afghanistan, while having noble purposes, are bleeding the US to the point that we may not be ready for a global conflict in the near future.

The US needs a security situation favorable to our national security now AND in the future. This means we need either a solid political and military victory in Afghanistan ASAP, or consider how we can stop the bleeding. I must confess that while I can see the problem with the war in Afghanistan, I don’t have a solution. I know it involves Pakistan and its military intelligence. I also know it also means we have to have a significant reduction of military personnel in Afghanistan in the near future. The Taliban knows this, too.

So, Michael Steele may be right about fighting a land war in Afghanistan. It has been said that the US should never get in a land war in Asia, and while President Eisenhower chose to keep the US out of a land war in Vietnam, Presidents Kennedy and Johnson chose to commit the US to a land war there. Today, those who believe a military victory is possible if we simply put more troops into Afghanistan will criticize Steele. However, even if a military surge is necessary, without a political solution, we are looking at a situation worse than the outcome of Vietnam.