Friday, May 28, 2010

A Flawed Strategy and a Failed War in Afghanistan



This was written before Feingold's amendment was thrashed by the Senate.  And I think she is much to optimistic about Congressional opposition to the war.  Yet there is valuable information in the piece.






A Flawed Strategy and a Failed War in Afghanistan


By Katrina vanden Heuvel

May 26, 2010


Speaking to graduating cadets at West Point on

Saturday, President Obama noted the "ultimate

sacrifice" of 78 of their predecessors who gave up

their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq. But he did not

mention that just days before, five U.S. soldiers were

killed in Kabul, bringing the toll of American dead in

Afghanistan to over 1,000.


As we pass this grim marker, the Obama administration's

strategy in Afghanistan is foundering because it is

fundamentally flawed. It lacks a clear, achievable

mission, isn't in our national security interest and

costs too much in treasure and lives.


The counterinsurgency strategy to win the hearts and

minds of Afghans is failing -- a Pentagon report last

month revealed that only 29 of 121 critical Afghan

districts could be classified as "sympathetic to the

government," compared with 48 "supportive of or

sympathetic to" the Taliban. The number of Afghans who

rated U.S. and NATO troops "good" or "very good"

dropped from 38 percent in December to 29 percent in

March -- perhaps as a result of the civilian casualties

that are on the rise.


There is a sense of Taliban momentum -- even Gen.

Stanley McChrystal recently declared, "Nobody is

winning," and military officials are now minimizing

expectations for the upcoming Kandahar offensive. The

highly touted operation in Marja that began three

months ago has failed to dislodge the Taliban.


The continued occupation of a fiercely independent and

tribal Afghanistan -- as well as the death of tens of

thousands of civilians -- engenders anti-Americanism

and fuels terrorist recruitment. Military operations

have also pushed violent jihadists across the border

and further destabilized a nuclear-armed Pakistan -- a

far greater threat to our national security than any

tenuous al-Qaeda "safe haven" in Afghanistan.


Finally, focusing so many resources on Afghanistan --

where al-Qaeda is now minimally present -- diverts

vital resources from other urgent security needs,

including economic recovery at home. For the first

time, the monthly cost of the war in Afghanistan

exceeds what we spend in Iraq -- $6.7 billion per

month, compared with $5.5 billion in Iraq. At the end

of May, appropriations for both wars will reach over $1

trillion -- mostly borrowed money that we're not

investing at home. Upcoming congressional hearings on

veterans care will demonstrate the human costs. No

wonder a majority of Americans -- 52 percent -- believe

the war "is not worth its costs," according to a recent

Washington Post poll.


A long-overdue alternative strategy begins with a

responsible withdrawal of U.S. troops and support for a

regional diplomatic solution, including talks with the

Taliban, which Afghan President Hamid Karzai wants to

pursue and America should support unconditionally. It

also includes common-sense counterterrorism measures,

intelligence sharing and targeted development and

reconstruction assistance.


The president is instead asking for another $32 billion

for the Afghanistan surge in a supplemental

appropriation that is expected to be voted on in the

Senate this week, with a House vote to follow.


But there are signs of a growing opposition. Reps. Jim

McGovern (D-Mass.) and Walter Jones (R-N.C.) and Sen.

Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) have introduced legislation

demanding an exit strategy and a timetable for

withdrawal, and Feingold announced that he will

introduce an amendment to the supplemental based on

that legislation.


The House bill has 91 co-sponsors. A strong showing in

the House -- where the amendment would probably receive

more than 130 votes -- will demonstrate to the

president that there is increasing concern in Congress

and throughout the country about the danger of an open-

ended commitment in Afghanistan. Even though Obama said

he will begin withdrawing troops in July 2011, that is

a tentative date at best -- and perhaps just the

beginning of the kind of very slow withdrawal we see

now in Iraq.


Vietnam and Iraq both demonstrated how easy it is to

get into war and how difficult it is to get out. We now

see that dilemma in Afghanistan. Withdrawal will demand

a huge political lift and may well lead to the

question, "What were the last eight years of lost blood

and treasure about?"


Confronting that question honestly is far less costly

than continuing a flawed strategy and a failed war.


Katrina vanden Heuvel is editor and publisher of The

Nation and writes a weekly column for The Post.



No comments: