Monday, July 5, 2010

Bob Herbert On The Quagmire Of Afghanistan

What is the difference between columnist Bob Herbert questioning the war in Afghanistan and RNC chair Michael Steele doing so? Herbert doesn't contradict his previous statements and doesn't need to send out a representative to say that he didn't say what he said. In his column "Worse Than a Nightmare," Herbert writes about the dilemma posed by a counterinsurgency strategy that tries to avoid civilian casualties yet also increases the risk to troops:

What is true is that we aren’t even fighting as hard as we can right now. The counterinsurgency crowd doesn’t want to whack the enemy too hard because of an understandable fear that too many civilian casualties will undermine the “hearts and minds” and nation-building components of the strategy. Among the downsides of this battlefield caution is a disturbing unwillingness to give our own combat troops the supportive airstrikes and artillery cover that they feel is needed.

In an article this week, The Times quoted a U.S. Army sergeant in southern Afghanistan who was unhappy with the real-world effects of counterinsurgency. “I wish we had generals who remembered what it was like when they were down in a platoon,” he said. “Either they never have been in real fighting, or they forgot what it’s like.”

Beyond the strategy is a 10-year war of questionable ends, huge costs and indiscernible progress:

We’ve been in Afghanistan for nearly a decade already. It’s one of the most corrupt places on the planet and the epicenter of global opium production. Our ostensible ally, President Hamid Karzai, is convinced that the U.S. cannot prevail in the war and is in hot pursuit of his own deal with the enemy Taliban. The American public gave up on the war long ago, and it is not at all clear that President Obama’s heart is really in it.

For us to even consider several more years of fighting and dying in Afghanistan — at a cost of heaven knows how many more billions of American taxpayer dollars — is demented.

...We are sinking more and more deeply into the fetid quagmire of Afghanistan and neither the president nor General Petraeus nor anyone else has the slightest clue about how to get out. The counterinsurgency zealots in the military want more troops sent to Afghanistan, and they want the president to completely scrap his already shaky July 2011 timetable for the beginning of a withdrawal.

We’re like a compulsive gambler plunging ever more deeply into debt in order to wager on a rigged game. There is no victory to be had in Afghanistan, only grief. We’re bulldozing Detroit while at the same time trying to establish model metropolises in Kabul and Kandahar. We’re spending endless billions on this wretched war but can’t extend the unemployment benefits of Americans suffering from the wretched economy here at home.

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