NEW YORK (November 23, 2008) — (Commentary) Out of the frying pan into the fire? In his race for the White House, Barack Obama called long and often for sending many more troops to Afghanistan (even before we withdraw quite a few from Iraq). It was a required thing to say on the campaign trail to show toughness and also to make the politically winning point that President Bush had fought the wrong war, in Iraq, when we had not yet cleaned out Afghanistan.
Did he really mean it? If so, is it really the right thing to do, especially with our chief national security threat now coming from within – in the form of our economic crisis?
The New York Times today presents a host of op-eds on Iraq and Afghanistan, including one from a guy named Rumsfeld and another from someone called Chalabi. The ones related to the Afghan conflict should raise questions for readers, and I hope, the Obama team. Just this morning, the Karzai government revealed that Obama had called the nation’s leader and pledged to increase U.S. support. The NATO commander wants to nearly double troop strength there.
This past August, I devoted a column here to this subject after a brief flurry of front-page articles on Afghanistan arrived to mark U.S. deaths there finally hitting the 500 mark. The war in Afghanistan, long overlooked, is now getting more notice, I observed, before asking: “But does that mean the U.S., finally starting (perhaps) to dig out of Iraq, should now commit to another open-ended war, even for a good cause, not so far away?”
Nearly everyone in the media, and on the political stage, still calls this the “good war.” Obama has even said “we must win” there. But it’s the same question we have faced in Iraq: What does he define as “winning”? How much are we willing to expend (in lives lost and money) at a time of a severe budget crunch and overstretched military? Shouldn’t the native forces — and NATO — be doing more? And what about Pakistan? And so on.
We’ve been fighting there even longer than in Iraq, if that seems possible. Now do want to jump out of a frying pan into that fire in an open-ended way?
Few voices in the mainstream media – and even in the liberal blogosphere – have tackled this subject, partly because of long arguing for the need to fight the “good war” as opposed to the “bad war.” But now some very respected commentators – with impeccable pro-military credentials – are starting to sound off on the dangers.
Back in August, I was reduced to quoting Thomas Friedman from a recent New York Times column: “The main reason we are losing in Afghanistan is not because there are too few American soldiers, but because there are not enough Afghans ready to fight and die for the kind of government we want….Obama needs to ask himself honestly: ‘Am I for sending more troops to Afghanistan because I really think we can win there, because I really think that that will bring an end to terrorism, or am I just doing it because to get elected in America, post-9/11, I have to be for winning some war?’”
And I reprinted at length comments from Joseph L. Galloway, the legendary war reporter, based largely on a recent paper written by Gen. Barry McCaffrey after his tour of the war zone. McCaffrey had said “we can’t shoot our way out of Afghanistan, and the two or three or more American combat brigades proposed by the two putative nominees for president are irrelevant.” Galloway noted sardonically: “We can’t afford to fail in Afghanistan, the general says, but he doesn’t address the question of whether we can afford to succeed there, either.”
Now the New York Times today presents several cautionary views. Here are three of them, hardly a group of lefty peaceniks.