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Monday, August 27, 2012

Leave Afghanistan: Why Wait Until 2014?

President Obama is espousing 
“The Afghan war as we understand it (being) over”
after the U.S. combat role ends in 2014,
and Afghanistan will enter a “transformational decade
 of peace and stability and development.”

Yet, General John Allen, commander of NATO’s ISAF mission in Afghanistan and Obama's commander on the ground, told a media briefing on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Chicago on May 20 2012, ”I don’t want to, again, understate the challenge that we have ahead of us. The Taliban is still a resilient and capable opponent in the battle space. There’s no end of combat before the end of 2014. And, in fact, the Taliban will oppose the ANSF (Afghan National Security Forces) after 2014.”

In other words, the war won’t end with NATO withdrawal.

So, Obama is pressing President Hamid Karzai to engage in reconciliation talks with the Taliban and to implement electoral reforms to diminish corruption and make elections transparent.

Do people believe talks with the Taliban or electoral reform with enhance Karzai's political survival? Does Karzai even believe these efforts will help? After all, Karzai has a minimal political base, and the U.S.-led invasion force pushed him into power.

Tony Karon, a senior editor at Time says, "The only thing keeping him (President Karzai) in power over the past decade has been the presence of tens of thousands of Western troops. Even if the Afghan security forces NATO is frantically training to take over — and suffering almost weekly 'green on blue' fatalities as Afghan security men turn their guns on their Western mentors — were up to par, it requires a vast leap of faith to imagine they’ll be loyal to Karzai." (Tony Karon, "Obama’s Afghanistan Problem: Neither Karzai Nor the Taliban Like the ‘Reconciliation’ Script," Time, May 21 2012)

Karon goes on to explain Karzai is the "least-worst" option for his position in a place where corruption and and cronyism has a long tradition. Karon says, "After all, when the CIA had first sent its operatives into Afghanistan to initiate the toppling of the Taliban, they were armed not with stirring calls to freedom and democracy, but with suitcases containing millions of dollars in hard cash. Karzai knows the limits of the loyalty of those presently aligned with the status quo, and the traditional fluidity of Afghan warlord politics. He holds his present position only because there’s no obvious alternative to play the role he’s been playing." (Tony Karon, "Obama’s Afghanistan Problem: Neither Karzai Nor the Taliban Like the ‘Reconciliation’ Script," Time, May 21 2012)

Of course, the Taliban brands Karzai as a “puppet” of the West. Obama’s Afghan “surge” that began in the summer of 2009 doubled down the U.S. military commitment in order to pummel the Taliban into suing for peace and being ready to accept U.S. terms that included the extension of authority and legitimacy for President Karzai. That hasn't happened.

The more militant Taliban elements retain ties with al-Qaeda, as well as some of the movement’s younger, more embittered mid-level commanders. None of them see any good coming out of negotiating a compromise when their primary enemies, the U.S. and its NATO partners, have made clear they intend to withdraw by the end of 2014. Surely they view that time is on their side.

           The latest New York Times/CBS News poll found
that more than two-thirds of those polled — 69 percent — thought that the United States should not
be at war in Afghanistan.
Just four months ago, 53 percent said that Americans should no longer be fighting in the conflict, more than a decade old.

(Elisabeth Bumiller, "Support in U.S. for Afghan War Drops Sharply, Poll Finds,"  
The New York Times, March 26 2012)

The same poll found that 68 percent thought
the fighting was going “somewhat badly” or “very badly,” compared with 42 percent who had those impressions
 in November.

In a Washington Post/ABC News poll, 60 percent
of respondents said the war in Afghanistan
had not been worth the fighting,
while 57 percent in a Pew Research Center poll
said that the United States should bring home
American troops as soon as possible.
In a Gallup/USA Today poll, 50 percent of respondents
 said the United States should speed up
the withdrawal from Afghanistan.


My Take

President George W. Bush faced broad discontent over the war in Iraq. His overall approval rating eventually dipped below 25 percent. How long can President Obama's dismal withdrawal strategy hold greater criticism at bay?

If the American people, by a margin of greater than two to one disapprove of the war, the U.S. should end it. Does it seem that the present U.S. government has a clear rationale for pursuing their policy through 2014? The answer is evidently "no." Now, after more than a decade of war, and despite some significant accomplishments, most notably the killing of Osama Bin Laden, victory in Afghanistan remains elusive.

Don't the American people need to be more active in calling for an immediate end to the war in Afghanistan? Does public opinion count for anything these days? It seems few care to do more than mouth their disapproval. For most, politics and bureaucracy seem too strong to be influenced by protest. Besides, since media coverage has diminished, people really seem to have lost interest.
The U.S. has not been gaining any clear advantage in Afghanistan. But, the cost in life and the monetary investment keep piling up. Does anyone hold hope that the U.S. will bring lasting peace, democracy and stability to Afghanistan? I have not talked with one person who believes significant improvements are being made. Maybe it's time for foreign policy to be made on the basis of majority rule.
When President Barack Obama cited cost as a reason to bring troops home from Afghanistan, he referred to a $1 trillion price tag for America's wars. Staggering as it is, that figure grossly underestimates the total cost of wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan to the U.S. Treasury and ignores more imposing costs yet to come, according to a study released on Wednesday.

The final bill will run at least $3.7 trillion and could reach as high as $4.4 trillion, according to the research project "Costs of War" by Brown University's Watson Institute for International Studies

(Daniel Trotta, "Cost of War at Least $3.7 Trillion and Counting," Reuters, June 29 2011)
2,106 Americans have died in
Operation Enduring Freedom
The suicide rate among the nation’s active-duty military personnel has spiked this year, eclipsing the number of troops dying in battle and on pace to set a record annual high since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan more than a decade ago.The military said that there had been 154 suicides among active-duty troops, a rate of nearly one each day this year.
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