Are We Going To Be In Afghanistan Forever?

by: Chris Bowers

Thu Jun 04, 2009 at 14:45

In President Obama's big speech today, he offered up the following rationale for continued American military presence in Afghanistan (hat-tip: David Mizner in Quick Hits):

Make no mistake: we do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. We seek no military bases there. It is agonizing for America to lose our young men and women. It is costly and politically difficult to continue this conflict. We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can. But that is not yet the case.

If we are keeping troops in Afghanistan and Pakistan until there are no violent extremists bent on killing Americans, then it is highly likely that we will be keeping a large military presence in the region during the entirety of President Obama's administration. And probably beyond then, too.

Are we really going to root out every last Afghani and Pakistani who wants to kill Americans? The refugee crisis in Pakistan has now displaced over two million people, and the American drone attacks in the region are part of cause. Further, thousands of Afghani civilians have been killed during the war, and it seems unlikely that none of the survivors will become violent extremists determined to kill Americans.

Even if the goal is not to root out all violent extremists, but rather to keep a military presence until such time as local governments can deal with the threat themselves, then we have probably committed ourselves to an operation that will last another decade or more. I find that extremely unsettling, to say the least.

There just doesn't appear to be any exit strategy for Afghanistan, at all. Public opinion still favors a continued American military presence in Afghanistan, but it isn't the overwhelming majority it once was. Also, it is difficult to project if public opinion will hold up during such a long-term commitment. It might, but I wouldn't put money on it. At some point, the majority of the American people will probably want to start reducing our military presence in the region. This could become a major flashpoint for the Obama administration in the years ahead.

Chris Bowers :: Are We Going To Be In Afghanistan Forever?

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I suspect (4.00 / 1)
That the unstated objective of staying in Afghanistan (which they really can't come right out and say) is the capture or death of Osama bin Laden, as some sort of ultimate proof that Democrats are more competent than Republicans in military and law enforcement matters.

Things You Don't Talk About in Polite Company: Religion, Politics, the Occasional Intersection of Both

So we're sending in our troops... (4.00 / 2)
and having them killed or maimed to try to show competency over another political party? That is the last reason we should be there IMHO.

[ Parent ]
Afghanistan (4.00 / 1)
I'm one of the guys who thinks of Afghanistan as the "good war" and still believe the initial conflict was justified and the correct course of action (though I'm wavering).  I even favored Obama's rhetoric in the primaries on Afghanistan.

But I've got nothing, now.  It is clear to me that our current activities are causing far more problems then they are solving.

We should have never invaded Afghanistan (0.00 / 0)
The purpose was sold to us as a national security necessity. But can you explain to me why military invasion and occupation was the only way of achieving what little benefit to our national security we've gained from this unfortunate venture?

Save Our Schools! March & National Call to Action, July 28-31, 2011 in Washington, DC: http://www.saveourschoolsmarch...

[ Parent ]
Police action (4.00 / 2)
I think we all agree that 9/11 in particular and terrorism in general should be treated more as a criminal problem than a military problem.  However, the Afghan government refused to cooperate and was largely controlled by the same people we needed to bring to justice.  So I considered the war to largely be a military component to a police action.

Bush never cared about Afghanistan.  I suspect he would have pulled everyone out in favor of Iraq if he actually got bin Laden.  Ignoring the Iraq half, I think that would have been a good and well justified event.

But all that is justifying the action as I imagined it in my head, not the current reality on the ground.  As I said, I've go nothing, now.

[ Parent ]
You're more than wavering (4.00 / 1)
I know that many people smarter than me, like Juan Cole, have called the Afghanistan invasion "the right war." But the justifications you offer never made any sense. The "Afghan government," which I assume you mean the Taiban, had no power to turn over Bin Laden to begin with. For all they knew he wasn't even in Afghanistan. And when you say the country was "largely controlled by the same people we needed to bring to justice," that's not quite true as al-Qaeda did not "control" Afghanistan. So, we broke up some terrorists camps, which could have been done through missile strikes or drones (like Clinton tried to to) or with covert operations. Look, I don't have a plan for what we need to do now in Afghanistan either. But let's no kid ourselves about the fallacious arguments that sent us in there from the get-go.

Save Our Schools! March & National Call to Action, July 28-31, 2011 in Washington, DC: http://www.saveourschoolsmarch...

[ Parent ]
Where do you get htese informations, Jeff? (0.00 / 0)
"The "Afghan government," ... had no power to turn over Bin Laden"?

"For all they knew he wasn't even in Afghanistan."?

Do you have some secret channel to Mullah Omar or anyone else who is intimate enough with the Taliban rule to support these statments? These are simply assumptions, and even though I read a lot about the topic I haven't seen any evidence supporting them.

And I don't even know if this statment is true:
"people smarter than me, like Juan Cole"
Who can say for sure that Juan Cole is smarter than you? The point is, he knows much more about the region, the people , and their history than you. And he's on that topic for decades now. So, sry, but I think his arguments have more merits than yours.

[ Parent ]
Evidence? (0.00 / 0)
There's no evidence either way that the Taliban had the capability to hand over bin Laden even if they had wanted to. So the whole rationale for war is built on assumptions. I just find it hard to believe that a religious fundamentalist leadership of the poorest country in the world with essentially a stone-age technology posed much of an obstacle to an international effort to capture bin Laden through some means other than a full-scale military invasion.

Save Our Schools! March & National Call to Action, July 28-31, 2011 in Washington, DC: http://www.saveourschoolsmarch...

[ Parent ]
There is prima facie evidence! (0.00 / 0)
The Taliban hey controlled the whole country, except the north. Their units of religious police supervised the compliance of all Afghans with the sharia, kind of like the Nazi block wardens in 1940s Germany. It isn't reasonable to assume that the presence of Bin Laden and his entourage would have escaped their attention. And, actually, when replying to the ultimatum to surrender Bin Laden and the Al Quaeda terrorists, the refused to do so, they didn't claim they are unable to find them.

And as for the possibility of capturing Bin Laden somewhere in Afghanistan: It would have been risky. Just rememember Carter's failed attempt to free the hostages in Teheran. The Us would have needed total up to date information on the location, and it still would have been possible that the terrorists would have moved at short notice. And then, the military means of the Taliban aren't stone age, but totally adquate for fighting back a foreign intruder who can't carry much more than infantry arms on his advance. And air support is counterproductive when it comes to close combat.

No, I don't think trying to capture Bin Laden with airborne troops pushing over a distance of several hundred miles (they would have had to come from Pakistan, I guess) would have been successful. and then, the Taliban gave the terrorists a save haven and logisitcal support. Should they have got away scott free? You wouldn't have been able to sell this to the US public in 2002.

[ Parent ]
True, (0.00 / 0)
the easiest "sell" was war. I can't argue with that.

Save Our Schools! March & National Call to Action, July 28-31, 2011 in Washington, DC: http://www.saveourschoolsmarch...

[ Parent ]
Too bad Presidents and Generals don't listen to the scenarios (0.00 / 0)
you imagine in your head. The reality on the ground has never been good.

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
Reason (4.00 / 1)
Al Qaeda had a firm base in Afghanistan.  The original invasion dislodged this.  That being said, there was no reason to stay in Afghanistan and absolutely no reason to invade Iraq.  A very quick process (which could have gotten Osama at minimal additional cost) became something very much else.

[ Parent ]
Good War (0.00 / 1)
You have no right to call Afghanistan a "good war". Afghanistan is not the business of America. America does not decide who shall die...not in any sensible manner of thought...and yet it keeps right on doing it. This is stupid.

There IS NO AL QUEDA...its a Myth.

There is NO ENEMY of AMERICA"S in Afghanistan...

[ Parent ]
No Right (4.00 / 3)
Of all I said, the one thing you first think to criticize is my right to make a statement?  I think you are showing your true colors a bit to clearly today.

[ Parent ]
Afghanistan=Obama's trap (4.00 / 1)
Unless Obama can find a way out, Afghanistan is shaping up to be his Vietnam.

There is no achievable objective. The military will always want to apply more force just to keep our guys alive; more force will make our presence ever more an unwanted foreign occupation and inspire nationalist/religious insurgency. The Afghan regime we installed has no legitimacy.

Lyndon Johnson was by far the best Democratic President of the second half of the 20th century -- and progressives came to hate him and forced his resignation because of Vietnam.

Second time as farce ... horrible to comptemplate.

Can it happen here?

Vietnam (4.00 / 2)
The Iraq/Vietnam comparisons never worked for me.  The differences far outweighed the similarities.  Afghanistan, on the other hand, has the ability to more closely approximate Vietnam if we continue down the path of slow but steady buildup.

Without a draft, of course, nothing could match Vietnam politically.  Still, the similarities are scary.

[ Parent ]
"Viet Nam" just means that fighting a war that has drifted (0.00 / 0)
beyond its initial goals (if ever they existed) is a recipe for disaster. The war, itself, become the purpose of fighting and there is no way anything useful will come from that situation.

May as well say, "Afghanistan will be Obama's Afghanistan". Refering to the last "super" power that tried to occupy Afghanistan and build a nation there.

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
LBJ didn't resign ... (4.00 / 1)
he just decided not to run for another term .. so please get your facts straight .. the only President to ever resign was Nixon

[ Parent ]
C'mon This is Stupid, now isn't it. Debate about the "war". (0.00 / 1)
Cmon now, admit it...Most of you are  all a bunch of dummies now aren't you?


Some people here and everywhere are still "arguing" about American involvement in utterly ridiculous wars that have been shown to be patently false and against imaginary enemies. Face it. Your "leaders" seek to confuse you. That's what world leaders do. They don't represent people. They seek to confuse them. They regard you as CHILDREN. Something to be manipulated.

They don't need your money or your vote. Just ask Penny Prtizker...when she said the money didn't come from the Public.....All they have to do is lie to you...and you go along and vote for some "candidate".  They get their money from corporations and organized groups. Nothing to do with public opinion.
Politicians don't really care about public opinion....They simply manipulate you. That's why Obama has continued Bush's policies. I knew this YEARS AGO...and it's time for most of you to stop. Just STOP!

Al Queda does not EXIST!. You just can't believe it can you? You can't believe it because you hear about "it" everyday. You are programmed. It's impossible for you to consider that you have been brain washed...those of you who actually consider that these wars have any merit.

They are absurdities. They are ridiculous wars. They are being waged for political reasons and reasons of deep confusion on the part of the dumb, incompetent, provinicial people who many of YOU have elected as your "leaders".

Obama is a fascist. He's employing an utterly absurd war in the Mideast and he should be put in jail with Cheney and Bush and all the rest.

Never do we hear an Arab or Muslim perspective...and that's one reason why many of YOU PEOPLE just can't get your heads around the idea that Obama is no different than Bush in most meaningful ways and that there IS NO GODDAMN AL QUEDA....


There is no war (4.00 / 1)
Bush just hired some folks in Hollywood to make it look like there was to appease some people.  Halliburton's profit margin is even larger than you realize because they don't actually do anything.

I can't believe you fell for that!

[ Parent ]
Thanks for highlighting this (4.00 / 2)
If by some surprising turn of events Obama was asked to actually comment on this, he'd say of course my goal isn't to remove every anti-American militant. To which the only response is: well what the hell is your goal?

As best as I can tell, we're not leaving--and won't be leaving any time soon--for four interconnected reasons:

1. Because we're there
2. Because of domestic politics
3. Because of sincere but irrational fears about ceding the region to militants
4. Because of general imperial-militaristic inclinations

Reworded (4.00 / 2)
Let me reword that for you:

As best as I can tell, we're not leaving--and won't be leaving any time soon--for four interconnected reasons:

1. Status Quo
2. Status Quo
3. Status Quo
4. Status Quo

[ Parent ]
Not Quite (0.00 / 0)
David's singing the verses, Mark.

You're singing the chorus.

And there is no bridge.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
No bridge? (0.00 / 0)
There are plenty of troubled waters both overseas and in our own country.  Maybe we could afford this nonsense years ago but I look at all the pensions and middle class jobs eaten up in the auto industry, in software, in construction and I see no reason to spend resources on looking good to the people who lost the last two elections.

We have other fish to fry.

[ Parent ]
We NEVER could afford this nonsense (4.00 / 2)
But that didn't make one bit of difference. Right now, despite the "economic crises" that plague us daily, I've heard not one whisper of cutting back on the costs of maintaining and expanding the US empire. Its "tough times" for everyone but the military. (Yes, I'm discounting those big-ticket boondoggels that have been "cut", that's window-dressing).

I think we miss the point when we frame these wars as national security and pretend that the purposes of the action are related to the rational provided by the government. I'm not certain what the intentions are, but I have a hard time believing that it has much to do with peace, respect, and democracy.  

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
Whatever Happened To The "Powell Doctrine"??? (4.00 / 2)
(Cross-posted from ZP Heller's diary, "Female Afghan MP Warns Congress of Dire Situation After US Airstrikes".)

Once upon a time America suffered a humiliating defeat in a war.  The military licked its wounds, engaged in a lot of finger-pointing, and eventually came up with a set of principles to keep it from getting into the same sort of trouble the next time around.  Because he is in the command structure at the time, and got to announce it to the world at the time of the Iraq War, it became known as "The Powell Doctrine," after Colin Powell.  But it was much more a reflection of institutional learning.

Back in late 2005, I wrote a diary at My Left Wing, which I republished here at Open Left in early January, before the inauguration, "Crafting A Democratic Plan To Win The War On Terror".  It had two keys:

The first is to recognize that it is not a war on terrorism. It is a war of ideas, against people who use terrorism. This gives special meaning and focus to Sun Tzu's maxim from The Art of War, "If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle."

The second key is to understand the situations in which terrorism flourishes, and act to change them. We need to understand the grievances--legitimate or not--that terrorists exploit, and do what we can to address them.  We must enter into a dialogue with people who feel powerless and abandoned, for terrorism appeals most strongly to those who feel they have no other way.

Then it went on to expand on those two keys, in what I called a "framework of principles."  The first section under that was "The Role of The Military."  There were three main parts in that section:

    (1) Care for the troops--active and retired.
    (2) Reinstate the "Powell Doctrine".
    (3) Don't Use The Military For Non-Military Fights.

This diary has inspired me to be lazy.  I'm going to report this diary again.  It just seems like such basic common sense.  Till then, here is how I summarize the bullet-point version of the Powell Docrine (there is no single canonical form for it):

   *  War should be a last resort.
   * The purpose should be clearly articulated and reflect a well-defined national interest (as established by the civilian political process).
   * It should enjoy strong public support, sufficient to sustain the effort.
   * Once decided, it should be executed with overwhelming force.
   * There should be a clear exit strategy.

As near as I can tell, Obama's Afghanistan policy is exactly like Bush's Iraq policy: it fails on every single count.

No wonder he's kept Bush's military team virtually intact.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

The Powell Doctrine (4.00 / 1)
came apart when even the washed up old soldier that gave his name to the idea couldn't even manage to support it in the public square and squandered the last scrap of his dignity by becoming a ventriloquist's dummy at the UN.

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
So 9/11 Changed Everything, Eh? (0.00 / 0)
Good to know!

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
I did not even mention 9/11 (4.00 / 1)

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
Forever? (4.00 / 1)
We're still in South Korea and Germany. Just sayin'

We're still in South Korea ... (4.00 / 2)
And some quite sane people make a case that what's wrong on that peninsula could be solved if we preferred a peace treaty to garrisoning the place forever. They may be wrong, but we could think about it.

Can it happen here?

[ Parent ]
You're in Germany because its convenient. (4.00 / 2)
You have established bases with all amenities there, its about halfway on the way to Iraq, and afaik the German government even financially contributes to the costs of your presence. Those are the reasons now that the Warzaw Pact is simply a bad memory from the past, not any strategic necessities anymore. Hell, it would be a much better question to ask why you are still in Gitmo? Because it's still nice to have a place of your won, where the US constitution isn't valid? Because its of strategic importance if you decide sometime in the future to invade Cuba? D'oh.

[ Parent ]
No US president will draw down a war (0.00 / 0)
without being pressured. Right now, there is no pressure.  Some members of Congress have stirred some over this, but its going to take more of them asking tougher questions to make a difference.  

We need them to ask those questions because this:

We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can.

is complete and utter nonsense.

The big question is can activists put pressure on members of Congress to demand answers without it appearing like a direct challenge to Obama (which seems like a political non-starter)?  

Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.

An Exit Strategy (4.00 / 7)
We ought to be calling for the Pentagon to provide an exit strategy in Afghanistan.  This is what McGovern has called for in the House.  And absent any benchmarks to hold the administration accountable, an exit plan would ensure we won't have an open-ended war.  

There's a petition urging Congress to back McGovern's bill here:  

ZP, we're on different sides, but this is a point I agree with. (4.00 / 1)
Of course, there should be an exit strategy. Without clear cut goals and waypoints, there is the danger of mission creep and of an unnecessary prolongation of the presence. Even those who support the US engagement here should support this.

[ Parent ]
It's all about security moms... (0.00 / 0)
...or otherwise protecting his political right flank.  Sorta like Kennedy w/ Viet Nam in early 60's.

Even another Harvard graduate like Obama understands the costly pointlessness of it all.  Backfilling campaign rhetoric and buying time, he's building creds on nat'l security before pulling the plug.

As with his rapidly eroding domestic plans, inevitably (and soon [we hope]) he'll have to retreat from his chess game to a less lofty checkers game.  

blatant lie about bases -- we're spending up to 4 billion on them -- "U.S. Construction in Afghanistan Sign of Long Commitment" (4.00 / 1)
WaPo Jan 09 -- --
The Army is building $1.1 billion worth of military bases and other facilities in Afghanistan and is planning to start an additional $1.3 billion in projects this year, according to Col. Thomas E. O'Donovan, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Afghanistan District.

Massive construction of barracks, training areas, headquarters, warehouses and airfields for use by U.S. and Afghan security forces -- which could reach $4 billion -- signals a long-term U.S. military commitment at a time when the incoming Obama administration's policy for the Afghan war is unclear.


(obama's blatant lie, that is) (0.00 / 0)
complete bullshit -- and everyone outside the us knows it.

unfortunately, the media never really accurately reports on our massive construction projects there and in Iraq -- and their massive costs -- except to marvel at how many fast-food places and gyms and amenities they have.

[ Parent ]
This is pretty disappointing... (4.00 / 1)
Of everything that was said today, you take one snippet of the speech and go on about it (and provide no other thoughts on the events).  I understand that the President has taken some actions that have disappointed, but it seems he can't get credit for doing anything positive around this place.  If all we do is criticize, why should he or anyone else listen to us?

[ Parent ]
Because there is such a thing as right and wrong? (4.00 / 2)
Do you think Obama is a moral idiot? Do you think he only takes advice from people who constantly stroke and praise him, like Bush?

He should listen to the people telling him to get out of Afghanistan because it is the right thing to do.

Montani semper liberi

[ Parent ]
"determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can"? (0.00 / 0)
Well, sure this is one of their goals. But this isn't good reason to stay in Afghanistan. Wouldn't it be the best way to prevent them from killing Americans to simply withdraw? And why the idiotic focus on American lifes - the rebels kill much more native Afghans, and that's the real problem! Despite it being a good speech, all in all, Obama totally failed with this argument, imho.

No, the reason why the US should stay in Afghanistan for now is that else the weak Karzai government will be swept away by the Taliban gaining power over the nation again. And then we would be back in the 90s again, with the possibility of terrorism getting a homebase of its won again. That's unacceptable.

However, the situation of the US using military force to keep a weak, unpopular government in place sure looks hauntingly familiar. Of course, it's very important to unroot the aggressor in the northern provinces of Pakistan, and the US has to support the Pakistani government in this fight any way they can. But this will not be enough to secure Afghanistan, as long as its core is rotten. So, there has to be a new focus on pressing the Afghans for reforms. They have to get their own house in order, or else all international assistance will be like pissing in the wind.

Sadly, so far Obama hasn't engaged the hot topic of Afghanistan domestic policies. But if he really wants to be able to withdraw US forces from that theatre, he will have to this. And better sooner than later.


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