Obama's Unavoidable Cure for the Afghanistan Cancer

Are we willing to allow eight years of mistakes and mismanagement to go unmitigated, or do we risk more lives trying to at least clean up some of the mess before we bug out?
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Whether you like it or not, if you voted for President Obama last year, you are partly responsible for this strategy. That's not entirely a bad thing depending on your position on the war, but it's worth repeating that the president never spoke of drawing down our forces in the Af-Pak region during the campaign, nor did he mention such a thing during his first 10 months in office.

So last night's announcement shouldn't come as a shocker.

Admittedly, during the campaign, he never specifically said that he would drop 30,000 additional soldiers into the war. And while he never specified the exact "30,000" number, he also never said anything about a July, 2011 date for beginning the withdrawal either. In other words, and unlike the Bushies, he's making adjustments to his strategy based upon what's happening on the ground rather than holding himself to a firm "smoke 'em out" meets "bring 'em on" endless and unchanging war policy. And, suffice to say, this underscores his considerably non-Bushie penchant for thought, rationality and informed deliberation.

Nevertheless, this thing is painfully confounding.

Yes, I obviously voted for President Obama. Yes, I understand how this strategy is, in fact, a vast departure from the Bush administration's conduct and strategic planning (insofar as the Bushies "planned" anything -- all gut). Yes, I understood the president's hawkish language about "the good war."

But I'm very reluctant to support this decision, because history has proved that similar plans have too easily gone horribly awry. Be that as it may, I just don't see how the president's solution can be avoided.

The war in Afghanistan is like a terrible form of cancer. No one wants it, but I don't know how we can avoid dealing with it without facing serious consequences. I don't want an escalation. I don't want more casualties. I don't want more spending when Congress is being miserly on domestic programs. I want the thing to end. I didn't even want it to start in the first place.

Regardless, it seems as though the president's announcement is a prescription for radical chemotherapy, complete with a start date and an end date. Vomiting, pain and ugliness ensue, but with light -- and perhaps a cure -- on the horizon. I think.

The diagnosis was reiterated and clarified by the president last night.

How did the cancer metastasize? We're all too familiar with how the Bushies made a series of historic blunders over there. They let Bin Laden escape. They failed to crush the Taliban. They rushed to abandon the mission in lieu of invading and occupying Iraq. They further destabilized an already unstable region -- a region in which there are several nuclear powers, one of which being Pakistan. The Taliban and others want those nukes and they shouldn't be allowed to attain them.

The impossible conundrum is whether we, as a nation, are willing to allow eight years of mistakes and mismanagement to go unmitigated knowing the long-term risks of an immediate withdrawal, or whether we risk more lives trying to at least clean up some of the mess before we bug out. Clearly, the president has opted for the latter with an eye on the former. And while I despise this war, I can't wrap my head around any other more reasonable solution.

There are historical lessons from Vietnam (more on this presently), but, likewise, there are lessons in the story of Charlie Wilson and our intervention during and following the Soviet occupation. But the added layer of several nuclear powers in the region, including Pakistan, raise the stakes and augment the risks in leaving without some kind of reconstruction as we go.

Our failure in the 1980s to provide the civilian population with even the most rudimentary infrastructure following the Soviet withdrawal eventually helped to create al-Qaeda and this current FUBAR crisis. If we don't withdraw smartly, we risk decades of blowback -- or, I should say, additional blowback beyond that which has already been sowed. Yet if we leave behind some stability, as opposed to abandoning the region in its present state of chaos, we might actually ameliorate some of the anti-Western piss and vinegar that's been stirred up over the years. Then again, occupation is occupation -- a choice between "awful if we get out" or "awful if we stay."

And then there's Pakistan's nukes. Outside of the purview of the American national security apparatus, the rest of us probably won't know for sure how close the Taliban is to absconding off with a nuclear weapon, and we probably don't entirely know how unstable Pakistan's government is. One way or another, I can't imagine a better sales pitch for Republican slash-and-burn foreign policy than a Democratic administration summarily withdrawing and consequently allowing a hostile Islamic regime to acquire a nuclear device from a destabilized Pakistan and to use it. This doesn't seem acceptable to me, but what will it cost to prevent it? I have no idea.

Again, this is the cancer. This is a big steaming bucket of crap. It's not a Truman A-bomb choice, but it's not too far down the list.

No matter what the cable news people suggest, though, this will never be "Obama's War." However, it will be "Obama's Chore" to repair the, pardon the language, impossibly fucked. And so I reluctantly support this plan with many, many concerns and caveats.

Mainly, this has to remain a clean-up and not evolve into a reboot. If it becomes a reboot of the war, it will fail. If the situation cascades out of hand, we could very well have the Vietnam that the president seemed to dismiss last night. (I disagree with the president's "it's not Vietnam" argument. While the specifics are different, the broadstroke similarities remain: escalation is escalation, endless war is endless war. If he loses control of the plan, Vietnam is what could very well happen.)

Ultimately, this is the policy we voted for last year. We voted for a pragmatic president who would carefully deliberate the war, a president who would make decisions based upon reason and reality -- a president who has been unwavering in his determination to repair the Bushie mistakes in Afghanistan and, once this was accomplished, to withdraw. This is precisely who and what we heard last night.

Hang the chemo bag and let's get it over with. Here's to hoping the road to July, 2011 is speedy and the casualties are minimal.

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