Obama: Iraq was easier than Afghanistan by mattsteinglass
March 23, 2009, 12:34 pm
Filed under: Afghanistan

In his 60 Minutes interview yesterday (transcript at Politico) Obama again provided some general sense of what the policy review in Afghanistan later this week will say. The central mission is to prevent Afghanistan being used as a safe haven for anti-American terrorists. There needs to be a comprehensive approach combining military, political and economic efforts. And, according to military experts:

Iraq was actually easier than Afghanistan. It’s easier terrain. You’ve got a — much better educated population, infrastructure to build off of. You don’t have some of the same destabilizing border — issues that you have between Afghanistan and Pakistan. And so this is going to be a tough nut to crack. But — it is not acceptable for us to simply sit back and let safe havens of terrorists plan and plot.

Questions: how important is to establish an effective government in Afghanistan and resolve the cross-border issues with Pakistan if your goal is preventing terrorist strikes on the US, which could be “planned and plotted” in Somalia or Hamburg if Afghanistan becomes less friendly to al-Qaeda? How expensive and how plausible is this strategy?

On the other hand: are there acceptable alternatives? And a big question it seems to me that nobody is asking: what are the moral dimensions of a possible retreat from Afghanistan? Is it possible to honor our promises to those who have chosen our side in Afghanistan if we decide that we no longer have a strategic interest in preventing a Taliban victory? Isn’t it important to keep such promises? In Vietnam we betrayed many of them, or honored them to some extent by granting US entry visas to a lot of people from the Republic of Vietnam. It seems absurd to think that anything similar could be done in Afghanistan. So what do we offer to the girls whose schools will be closed, the police and army officers who will be executed, the NGO volunteers who will be whipped when the Taliban jeeps roll into Kabul? Nothing? “Sorry”?


5 Comments so far
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“And a big question it seems to me that nobody is asking: what are the moral dimensions of a possible retreat from Afghanistan? ”

That’s a question which the Bush administration deliberately botched for seven years. There’s a thing about wars – if you lose them it can really s*ck.

Comment by Barry

These are huge moral questions. Thank you for raising them. But what are we to do?

What we’ve got here is a case, as they say, of Bush’s mouth writing checks that his ass couldn’t cash. What clear-headed assessment of Afghanistan’s history would have led Bush to imagine we could remake the country at all — let alone remake it into a place where we could promise girls the schooling they so deserve?

If Bush promised each Kabul resident a ride on the Space Shuttle, I assume we’d want Obama to politely explain why America wasn’t going keep Bush’s promise.

Prolonging a doomed war for the sake of showing that we tried our darnedest doesn’t help anyone — not us, not our troops, not even Afghan schoolgirls.

Let me be clear. I want there to be a way to make good on these promises. Someone needs to show me how it can be done without bringing back a military draft to get us up to the troop levels we’d need for a responsible, robust counterinsurgency. And maybe that’s what it comes down to. If morality prevents us from walking away from a delusional promise, maybe a moral America needs to grow a military that’s gigantic enough to keep the promise.

More of my thoughts on the Afghanistan conundrum here …

Thanks again for making us take a hard look at the morality of all this.

Comment by David Quigg

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