The Republican Amen Corner has attacked President Barack Obama on just about everything that he's tried to do since taking office. Not one thing he's done so far has pleased this clearly bitter and delusional mix of radio talking heads, TV pundits, and arm-chair generals putting in their two cents to the "no-no brigade." The recent Republican blowout is a combination of half-truths and political spin about the Obama health care bill and his -- in former vice president Dick Cheney's words -- "dithering" on sending more troops to Afghanistan.
The fact that President Obama does not have a health care bill is of little consequence in the mad rush to hand the president a failure that has been on the GOP agenda since day one. On Afghanistan, every major talk show host is now saying that Obama is indecisive -- a more charitable construct than the Darth Vaderish Cheney disrespect. The fact is that the continued military mission is costing billions of dollars at a time when Western economies are suffering under a stultifying depression. We simply can't afford tocontinue fighting in Afghanistan.
But President Obama is right to take his time on his Afghanistan decision. Prudent, sensible deliberation and consultation will result in him making the best possible decision. In the Caribbean there is a saying that "a hurried bird never builds a good nest." It is a saying that President Obama should heed.
The decision on Afghanistan will, in many ways, define Obama's presidency. A few weeks of serious contemplation will not change things in Afghanistan. Nor will an additional 34,000 or 100,000 more soldiers. And the hubris of the general staff is something that he must read into and analyze.
As John F. Kennedy found out during the Vietnam War, his generals hell bent on troop escalation were militarily myopic, driven by careerist goals, and shamelessly skewing the analysis to make the case for more troops, more bombs and a much longer war. In short, they were lying through their teeth. It was also the same set of generals who were egging on Kennedy to bomb the daylights out of Cuba without engaging the Soviets during the Cuban Missile Crisis. If Kennedy had listened to those gung-ho generals who could have cared less about ordinary people or the perceived weaknesses of negotiation a nuclear catastrophe would have prevailed. In both cases Kennedy took two unpopular decisions that rankled the military top brass whose approach to Vietnam and Cuba was simply to use America's military might without regard to the consequences.
Coming on the heels of the lies and deceit that the Republicans, led by Cheney and Rumsfeld, used to drag America into an unnecessary war in Iraq, President Obama's deliberation is a refreshing departure. Republicans arrogantly believe that because of their control of the media and their propensity to shout at the top of their lungs, the American public has a short attention span. Cowing and brow-beating the public is not going to work every time.
President Obama must know that there is invasion, then occupation, and finally pacification. The eight-year Afghanistan war has only achieved the first objective. There are not enough troops to occupy, much less pacify, Afghanistan or Iraq. So this report that calls for as many as 40,000 more troops is simply a drop in the bucket and, in my opinion, it would take at least a minimum of 400,000 troops to partially pacify Afghanistan -- numbers that we cannot afford in a brutal recession. So President Obama is right to be careful and to insist on an exit strategy.
Like JFK more than 30 years ago, President Obama has to mull the possibility of more American casualties in Afghanistan, the increased cost, and growing public opposition led by power hungry Republicans. He must consider that, at this time, the American public is confused over a rancorous, distorted and deliberately confusing debate by Republican operatives on everything that he does with an eye to making him a one-term president.
They are setting a trap for him. If he sends just about 30,000 troops to Afghanistan the GOP attack squad will lay low, let him commit them, and then say it was too little, too late -- especially when more American GIs come home in pine boxes. They will call him soft on national security and unfit to be commander in chief. He is going to have to buck his generals on this one, since the final decision is going to be his own.
President Obama would also do well to remember the lessons of history. The British Afghan wars and the Soviet occupation of the 1980s should be a warning against military involvement in a country whose tribal tensions make it almost ungovernable. Both were disasters.
Today, as the president gets pummeled by Republicans eager to escalate and extend the war, he must know that there is no longer the opportunity that there was in 2002 and 2003 to build a stable democracy. Overtures have already been made to moderate factions of the Taliban about a power-sharing agreement -- they have failed. The West should focus its energies on devising a diplomatic solution, rather than an unachievable military victory.
Finally, the continued military mission is costing billions at a time when Western economies are suffering. Europe and NATO countries are not matching America's troop build-up and financial commitment because of the unpopularity of the war and the damage done by former president George Bush. Europeans see this as "America's war" and want very little to do with it, something that could be a major problem for the present coalition. America simply cannot finance and continue to prosecute this war with President Obama facing so many issues at home.President Obama must reject the half-baked military Bush-era rationale that says any withdrawal will leave America vulnerable to another terror attack. Or that withdrawal is cutting and running -- a favorite Republican line. Afghanistan does not have the capability or technical expertise to do so, and it is in Pakistan and Iraq where Al Queda is now to be found. Moreover, the other threat areas for Al Quedaare Somalia, the Philippines, and Europe, yes, Europe. So fighting to contain Al Queda in Afghanistan is a misdirected waste of resources.
As a result ofthe years of the Bush debacle in Iraq, Al Queda has morphed into a sort of global terrorist steering committee, with local and regional groups carrying out attacks in the organization's name and with its blessings though not directly commanded or directed by Osama bin Laden.
Therefore, there is enough reason to get out of Afghanistan where a corrupt government and an unruly populace with no tradition of democracy is highly unlikely to succeed. The United States and its allies in NATO cannot win there militarily. The hubris of the American military is similar to its behavior in Vietnam and in the Cuban crisis.
President Obama must stare down the generals and do the right but unpopular thing in Afghanistan.