On Tuesday night President Barack Obama told us what his plan was for Afghanistan. Commit somewhere around 30,000 more troops now and start a phased withdrawal in 2011. Predictably, the plan pleased almost no one. The left argues, rightly, that every dollar spent in Afghanistan is a dollar not available for health care reform, infrastructure development or economic recovery in this country and feels betrayed by the President’s gin up of the war, the screaming meemies on the right accuse him of not being aggressive enough and “dithering.”
I’m not sure he had much choice. He inherited a war that was almost criminally mismanaged by the Bush-Cheney administration. Any opening the world had to make Afghanistan a better place in 2002-2003 is slammed shut now. It slammed shut when Bush-Cheney invaded Iraq.
I lived in Pakistan in the late 1970’s. Wandering a bazaar in Karachi one day I picked up a tattered copy of “18 Years in the Khyber” a memoir originally published in 1900 by Robert Warburton, a British officer stationed in Afghanistan. It opens with an attack by young radical Islamic students called the “Talib” on a British cantonment (camp) and the death of a British officer. In 1853. Those Talibs who attacked the British in 1853 are the forefathers of the Taliban we’re battling now. (The book’s back in print and available at Amazon.)
The British, then the mightiest empire in the world that controlled all of India, were evicted from Afghanistan in 1842, 1880, and 1921.
And then there were the Russians. The Soviets were evicted in 1989 after nine years of battle. Afghan tribesmen initially armed with Lee-Enfield rifles from World War I defeated the mightiest (and meanest) army in the world. (Although by the end the Mujahideen - now Taliban - had a lot of support from the US.)
Obama’s a smart guy. He is aware of the Afghan’s ability to chew up and spit out foreign empires. He should also know what Vietnam did to the Johnson presidency. Civil rights, the Great Society and his domestic reforms all fell victim to the Vietnam War.
So the question is “what choice did Obama have?” There were no good ones, just a series of less bad ones.
About 100 people gathered on a street corner in the Biltmore section of Phoenix last night to protest President Obama’s decision.
There are more photos from the protest and vigil in my PhotoShelter archive and available from ZUMA Press.