The war in Afghanistan is not quite the Vietnam War, but there are some similarities that are worth considering, especially right now. Depending on some of the decisions that are going to be made in the near future, the Afghanistan occupation could become another long-term, unconventional conflict with no easy exit option, much like its 1970s predecessor. President Barack Obama inherited a complicated war and has now come to a fork in the road. General McChrystal, the U.S. Commander in Afghanistan, has all but formally called for an additional 40,000 troops, saying if we do not send them we are headed for “failure.”
Needless to say, this leaves the president in a tough situation. He can either oblige McChrystal and risk escalating a deathly war with no clear strategy, or pull out the majority of troops and be accused of being weak on foreign policy by his hawkish critics. Or he can opt for another strategy somewhere in the middle, which is essentially setting the stage for a prolonged presence in the region.
The situation on the ground is not making his decision any easier. With the delayed results from the recent presidential election, it has been that much harder to establish a clear plan. If he decides to scale back to more of a nation-building strategy, he could be seen as backing a fraudulent government. Currently, President Obama is in the middle of meetings with a myriad of people from various groups, including national security advisors, NATO leaders, members of his own administration, the secretary of defense, and General McChrystal himself, just to name a few. And you can be sure they are all pulling him different directions.
Obama is taking time to make a wise decision, stating that he does not want to be in Afghanistan “for the sake of being there or saving face.” Considering that, since taking office, Obama has already nearly doubled U.S. troop presence in the country (to around 62,000) in order to combat the surge in violence, it’s not such a bad idea to think this through thoroughly. NATO has added roughly 9,000 troops over the same amount of time. There have been over 1,500 civilians killed just since the beginning of the year, largely due to a strategy of drone attacks which I wrote about a couple months ago.
As if all of that were not enough, global opposition is growing. NATO countries are becoming more and more opposed to the war. Two-thirds of Germans oppose the troop presence, with 60 percent wanting immediate withdrawl. Rome recently dedicated a day to mourning the troops that have died in Afghanistan. In Australia, 51 percent of the population opposes our involvement and two-thirds oppose an increase in troops. Sixty-four percent of France opposes their country’s involvement. Other countries have similar views — it’s not just the “socialist” countries that are against the war. The U.S. itself now has more people opposed to increasing troop levels than are for it, with 50 percent against and only 41 percent in favor. There have been additional calls from within Congress for the presentation of a clear exit strategy.
President Obama will have a tough time dealing with any of the issues that need to be taken care of — whether they be health care, climate change or something else – if the Afghanistan riddle becomes any more of a problem. The way things are looking, regardless of whether Obama ultimately decides to send an additional 40,000 troops, any strategy they devise won’t have the necessary backing to last very long.
Randal Serr is a liberal political columnist for Rhombus. He is currently pursuing a graduate degree in public policy at the University of Utah.
Trackback from your site.