Why I Changed My Mind On Afghanistan

Until about a month ago, I agreed with Barack Obama's strategy in Afghanistan. I thought we should have concentrated on Afghanistan from the beginning. We should have brought in so many more troops. We owed it to the Afghan people to do the best we could for them since we happened to invade their country. I think the Taliban is the scourge of the earth, and the idea that they might take over after we leave is abhorrent to me. We had to stay and get it right.

So, what happened?

Over one million votes were fraudulent. 1.3 million fake votes were thrown out to be exact. That's out of only five million votes. That's ridiculous. Obviously the current government of Afghanistan is a sham. The key to "winning" in Afghanistan is to convince the Afghani people to work with us. They have to side with us over the Taliban. If they don't, we're not helping them, we're fighting them. And that's just about where we are now.

What's the long term strategy? Kill all the Taliban? Do we even know who is Taliban and who is not? Matthew Hoh, the US diplomat who resigned his post in protest of the war, points out that "valleyism" reigns supreme in Afghanistan. That means if you come into my valley, I will fight you. They don't care if you're Russian or British or Persian or American or even an Afghan from the central government. You step into their valley, and they will fight you to the bitter end. And there is no end. They're fighting us because we're fighting them.

Yes, that's all good and fine. The Karzai government has no legitimacy or broad popular support. We can't possibly "win" and we don't even know what it means for us to "win." But what about the Taliban? We can't let them take over Afghanistan. But who is to say they would? Here's what I realized recently - when we leave, it'll be them fighting in the valleys.

The Taliban never had full control of Afghanistan, and they never will. The minute they try to take charge, the Afghans - as is in their nature - will rebel. They'll fight back. They'll fight for their valleys. They'll fight to the bitter end. And there is no end.

How about Al Qaeda? There are very few Al Qaeda fighters left in Afghanistan. And drone strikes work just as well in Afghanistan as they do in Pakistan (or just as poorly, depending on your perspective). Let's focus on getting those guys - remember they're the ones who actually attacked us. But we don't have to occupy a whole country (and rebuild it, too) while we hunt for Al Qaeda. If you think that we do, then under that logic, we should invade Pakistan and occupy it until we capture Osama bin Laden who is hiding in that country.

And we recently showed in Somalia that we can eliminate Al Qaeda operatives with Special Ops Forces on targeted missions. When we went after the Al Qaeda leader in that region, we swooped in with a small team, took out the target and took back off. Imagine if we invaded Somalia instead. Would anyone in their right mind be in favor of that as an alternate policy? So, is the difference in Afghanistan simply that we're there already? Is that a good enough reason to continue a policy that we otherwise would not and should not carry out?

Finally, the amount of money we're spending on these wars is insane. In Iraq and Afghanistan combined, we have so far spent $937 billion. For that kind of money, we could have already given everyone in the country health care - and not even paid for it. The wars, unlike the current health care proposals, are not deficit neutral. They are enormous budget busters and suck the funding from everything else. Is there really anyone in America who believes a few more years of the Afghanistan war is worth not getting health care coverage for themselves or their family?

The bottom line is that we don't have a viable partner in Afghanistan and we don't have the legitimacy that is essential to rebuilding the country. The Afghans don't view us as their saviors. They view us as the latest intruder in their valley. That is not a visit that is going to work out for us. That's not a visit that's ever worked out for anybody.