by Ari Rutenberg
Just to add my two cents to the comments by Bob, Ben, and Matt, I think it is a fool’s errand. From my perspective, there are three main issues at hand here, only one of which actually has to do with Afghanistan.
The first is the same mistake large bureaucracies, especially the U.S. government, often make. The mistake is to assume that it is better to been seen to be taking action than not, even if the action doesn’t actually help solve the problem. In many cases, these face-saving actions can also be counter-productive (see the TSA). I think this is what Obama has been told “we must do something, and this is all we can do.”
The second part of the error is Obama’s lack of trust in his own judgment. Despite an obviously keen intellect, he does not yet trust himself. His deference to supposed expertise is a weakness in this case, not a strength. I do not believe that Obama actually thinks this will help stabilize Afghanistan, or deal with the nuke issue in Pakistan. What has happened is he has allowed the establishment, which in D.C. seems to be obsessed with military action as the solution to major problems, to convince him that he doesn’t understand it as well as they do, just as Wall Street has done. The reality is that they don’t understand it, as demonstrated by the fact that they have been using the same strategy the whole time and it has not worked. I don’t get what they think will be different this time. Or what difference they think we can make in 18 months.
The third issue is Afghanistan itself. It is unconquerable and has never had a stable central government. Many empires have tried and failed to take it over (Soviets, Brits, Romans, Macedonians). The Soviets had 120,000 plus troops there, and not only did they not get Afghanistan, they lost their own country. The extra 30,000 troops for 18 months won’t do it. Maybe if we could commit 500,000 plus for 5 years or so we could have a chance, but that’s not going to happen. It is rugged and inhospitable terrain, and what’s more the Afghans don’t like us.
As I said before, this is a fools errand. And it seems like Obama is not sure enough of his own judgment to decline it. He needs to get serious and start leading…right now he feels like a follower