Jewish World Review Sept. 25, 2009 7 Tishrei 5770
From Mission Creep to Mission Gallop
By Roger Simon
Catnip is what President Barack Obama says attracts media attention: behavior that is "rude" or "outrageous" or "trying to evoke strong emotion" and create "conflict."
Today's catnip, however, is only some of those things. Does it evoke strong emotion? Yes. Will it create conflict? Yes.
But it is also something from which we cannot avert our eyes: Should the United States send more troops to Afghanistan, a place where mission creep has been replaced by mission gallop?
Our original mission in Afghanistan was to destroy those who had attacked us on Sept. 11, 2001, and deny them a future base of operations. We wanted to kill as many members of al-Qaida as we could — especially Osama bin Laden — and force the Taliban, which harbored al-Qaida in Afghanistan, from power.
So far, so good. But then — and this seems to be a habit of ours — our mission grew: We decided to "nation build" to try to create a new and stable democracy, one that provided equal rights to women and enjoyed popular support. We also decided that as part of our "counterinsurgency" mission, we had to improve roads, power plants, and bridges and schools, as well as make people feel safer in their villages by stationing U.S. troops near those villages. We also wanted a major shift in agricultural policy: We wanted Afghan farmers to stop growing opium poppies and grow pomegranates, instead. (That opium, the basic ingredient of heroin, is vastly more profitable to farmers than pomegranates is a conundrum we are still wrestling with.)
We have had some success in Afghanistan: We have not gotten Osama bin Laden, but al-Qaida has not been able to launch another attack against the United States.
But having destroyed the terrorists' ability to attack America, we have been sending a steady stream of Americans to the terrorists.
We have been sending them our soldiers. And more U.S. citizens have been killed in the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan than were killed on Sept. 11.
So at what point do we leave? Or is there such a point?
In the beginning, we had one standard for judging our actions in Afghanistan: Is what we are doing making America safer?
Now, the standard is far more complex: Is what we are doing making Afghanistan better?
I don't have any objection to making Afghanistan better. But are we more committed to that goal than the Afghans are? And how many years and how many U.S. lives will it take to achieve that goal?
We don't know. We do know our military leaders want more troops.
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress last week that he had been speaking with Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, and "quite honestly, he found conditions on the ground tougher than he thought."
After eight years of fighting in Afghanistan, we are now finding things tougher than we thought? One can only wonder what other surprises await us as the years roll by.
On Monday, The Washington Post published a "confidential assessment" of the war by McChrystal in which he said he needs more troops "while Afghan security capacity matures."
Let me translate that for you: The Afghans are still somewhat unwilling to fight for their own country, to die for a weak and corrupt government in Kabul or to risk their lives to grow pomegranates and guarantee rights for women. (I don't mean to equate pomegranates and rights for women. I do mean to suggest that many men in Afghanistan are uninterested in either.) If we do not send more U.S. troops, McChrystal says, we risk "an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible."
So send more troops, or lose the whole shooting match. It is easy to see why the memo was leaked. The Pentagon does not want Obama to go wobbly on Afghanistan. It wants him to stay and fight. And stay and stay and stay.
"I don't have a deadline for withdrawal," Obama told David Gregory on "Meet the Press" Sunday, "but I'm certainly not somebody who believes in indefinite occupations of other countries."
But if Iraq was George W. Bush's war — and it certainly was — Afghanistan has now become Barack Obama's war. He wasn't the president who started it, but he can be the president who finishes it.
Or he can be the president who stays there indefinitely.
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© 2009, Creators Syndicate