President Obama will announce his policy decision on Afghanistan to a deeply divided nation Tuesday night in an address from West Point. It is largely anticipated that his recommendation will be to send tens of thousands of American soldiers while encouraging NATO allies to send an additional ten thousand troops. The annual cost per U.S. soldier of $1 million dollars is in stark contrast to the Taliban's payment of $8 a day to desperate impoverished young men looking to feed their families.
This war announcement will be to a U.S. population that largely does not support the war and on an issue that deeply divides us. Most of us go about our daily lives unaffected by the decision and the war, as our kids are not at risk of being killed or maimed for life. There is no equal or fair sharing of the burden of war. There are camps of supporters and non-supporters of the effort. Those whose kids who are at risk are largely supportive of the troops and worry daily about their well-being. There are those who support the war effort but are not willing to raise the necessary taxes to pay for the effort or provide the necessary medical and psychological support to the troops upon their return. Then there are those of us who work daily to try and stop this war escalation before it even happens.
The current war in Afghanistan has become a civil war against a corrupt American backed central government with the principle driver of the insurgency being poverty and unemployment. Afghanistan has a 40 - 50% unemployment level with a rate of malnourishment of 35%.Two thirds of the country lacks access to safe drinking water fueling a childhood death rate of 1 out of 5 by age five.
In these harsh economic survival conditions the Taliban is able to recruit individuals who would rather be doing anything else. Day labor goes for $4 dollars daily in Kabul. The horrible fact is that American soldiers are being killed by desperate Afghani men who would be willing to put down their arms for $5 a day.
A so-called Afghan Marshall Plan has been proposed as an exit strategy for Afghanistan (http://www.jobsforafghans.org). This "civilian assistance surge" amounts to a countrywide jobs program. It is anticipated to cost about $4 billion dollars, or less than what our military operations cost for 2 months. Indeed there are many alternatives to war in Afghanistan. Appropriate foreign aid, supporting reconciliation and conflict resolution while working with the international community to identify, support and protect the process of peaceful conflict resolution stand foremost.
Ultimately most agree there is not a military solution to the situation in Afghanistan.There needs to be a reconciliation process bringing together the varied warring factions including the Taliban. The rudimentary steps in this process supported by the international community and the U.S. military are just beginning. This reconciliation process can occur now or later. The principle difference of waiting until later will be in the cost of American and innocent Afghani lives.
Robert Dodge is a family physician practicing in Ventura County, California. He is co-chairman of Citizens for Peaceful Resolutions (www.c-p-r.net), a board member and nuclear ambassador of Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles (www.PSRLA.org), a board member of Beyond War (www.beyondwar.org) and team leader for their Nuclear Weapons Abolition Team.