Is It Time to Finally Pull the Plug on Afghanistan?

U.S. Commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal is only one of several voices President Obama is listening to.
U.S. Commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal is only one of several voices President Obama is listening to.

Does anyone really understand what is happening in Afghanistan anymore? With President Obama in the midst of deciding what to do with this challenging, upsetting, and mind-numbing 8-year-old war, the American public should think hard about what this war has meant to us.

We invaded Afghanistan in December of 2001 in retaliation for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Everyone knows this. We were not there for oil, to stop nuclear proliferation, or to topple an unpopular dictator. We were there for reasons of vengeance, pure and simple.

Of course, America justified the invasion by saying we were there to liberate the Afghan people from the Taliban regime; a group of Islamic fundamentalists who oppressed women, murdered anyone who did not adhere to their strict doctrine, and prevented any economic, political, or social progress from blooming. These people were bad news. And of course, it did not help that they harbored al Qaeda, the terrorist network who killed nearly 3,000 Americans one fateful September morning.

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, has publicly advocated for President Obama to send additional troops to stamp out the insurgency once and for all. Usually a military general does not publicly announce such opinions, but that is beside the point. That is one voice that our president is hearing. Other voices are calling for him to pull out of Afghanistan completely. What makes this perspective unusual is its bipartisanship nature. Critics both on the right and the left think America should do this. When you have a mixture of conservatives and liberals agreeing on a major political issue, that means something significant.

Then again, there are plenty of voices in the media who believe Obama should stay the course and hope the Afghan government can get their act together. The August 20th presidential election in Afghanistan was wrought with allegations of fraud. President Hamid Karzai won a disputed election that international critics are decrying. Allegedly, government forces arrested anti-Karzai protesters, beat supporters of Karzai’s main opponent (the aptly named Abdullah Abdullah), stuffed ballots, and generally intimidated anyone who stood in his way of winning reelection.

Do any of these tactics sound familiar? Oh yeah, they sound like tactics the Taliban would use had they been into pseudo-democracy. It sounds like despotism has not completely left Afghanistan, even after 8 years of war. This proves that some things never change.

But this should not come as a surprise to anyone. If you know anything about Afghanistan’s history, there has not been a stable government in power there in quite a while. From the Soviet occupation of the 1980s to the current U.S.-led occupation, foreign powers have come in and tried to install their rule on the Afghan people. And all of these efforts have failed. Will this spell doom for the United States and NATO? One can only hope not.

McChrystal might be right in wanting to send more troops. Candidate Obama promised to send nearly 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan in order to stamp out the Taliban, bring the last remnants of al Qaeda to justice, and make sure that Central Asian country is never again a breeding ground for terrorism (or is it “man-made disasters?”). All of these are ambitious goals; but are they achievable?

Critics of George W. Bush (and God knows there are plenty of them out there) argue he did not do enough to secure Afghanistan from chaos after the initial invasion. There is a lot of credibility to that argument. Bush seemed too bent on invading Iraq than he did on finishing the job in the country where the 9/11 attacks were conceived and planned. It seems reasonable to believe that Bush should have poured all his military efforts to secure Afghanistan, prevent Pakistan from becoming a hide-out place for al Qaeda, and encourage the international community to assist in nation-building.

But all that seems like a distant memory. The international community is rightfully hesitant to getting involved in Afghanistan because of all the instability that is going on over there. How are they to know that their money, effort, and manpower will not go to waste within 10 or so years? No one can know for sure. Just look at Somalia. How much money has the U.N. invested in that tiny African country? I don’t know for sure, but it’s more than what they are getting in return.

I am shifting my position on Afghanistan. I will continue to keep an open mind, but it might be time to pull the plug there. U.S. military casualties are soaring at record heights. More servicemen and women are being killed there than Iraq. Historians are calling Afghanistan a doomed mission, in line with Vietnam. The parallels between those two wars are striking. And of course, look at recent history. If the Soviets could not impose their will there, why can we?

But maybe imposing our freedom loving, secular democratic will is not possible. Afghanistan’s long and troubling history makes it almost impossible for real positive change to occur there anytime in the near future. The same goes with Iraq and Kosovo. Kosovo might be an independent country now, but they are far from secure. Trouble is brewing in that spot of the world as well.

President Obama says he wants clear, attainable, and achievable objectives spelled out before he makes a final decision. That is a smart move on his part. With millions of lives at stake, you do not want to rush into anything that you might regret later. Our military is exhausted from fighting two long bloody wars. If we’re going to expand the war in Afghanistan, we better have a clear strategy.

Obama is smart and I am sure he will make a smart decision. But then again, President Kennedy’s team was comprised of the Best and the Brightest, and look at what they did in Southeast Asia. So this means even the smartest people in the world can still make foolish decisions.

But then again, to be perfectly honest, maybe there is no clear cut best solution to fixing this mess. Maybe only time will tell. Perhaps this is one of those decisions where we have to make an executive decision, carry it out, and pray it goes well. It’s like being a quarterback in a football game: you just throw the ball and hope somebody catches it; preferably someone on your own team, of course.

So to answer the original question, does anyone really understand the ground situation in Afghanistan? It is quite possible even the Afghan government, as corrupt as they are, have no clue what will happen five years from now. Maybe that is why they are using so much violence to keep power. If they lose it, they could lose their country. Or maybe they are no better than the Taliban, who still hold significant power in neighboring Pakistan.

These are reasons why I am glad that I am not in a position to have to make these decisions. And I think I speak for plenty of other people as well.

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