I have enormous respect for David Brooks, The New York Times columnist who always gets my attention.
Brooks’ March 27 column on Afghanistan made me think through the situation again. On reflection, however, his argument that we should stay in Afghanistan did not persuade me.
In fact, I think we should get out as soon as we can. I also think we should leave Iraq immediately.
There was a time when our government under President George W. Bush believed we would never leave Iraq and would retain some kind of permanent base there. Now we have signed agreements with Iraq’s government committing us to leave permanently no later than Dec. 31, 2011, and if any referendum in Iraq requires that we leave by June 30, 2010, we have agreed to do so.
If I had my way, we would leave at once.
I believe we will gain nothing by delaying our departure from Iraq that will equal the inevitable American deaths and casualties.
Does anyone think the Iraqis will come to love or even like us?
There was a time when the Iraqis had one of the most feared armies in the Mideast. Having fought an eight-year war with Iran, the Iraqi army was battle hardened. After disbanding the Iraqi army in 2003, we decided to put it back together. Now, six years later, it has hundreds of thousands of soldiers, trained by U.S. personnel with U.S. weapons, and it apparently still can’t prevent the several thousands of al-Qaida and Sunni terrorists from engaging in terrorist bombings.
What will make the Iraqis more capable of running their own country peacefully within the next 18 months? I believe the tribal killings there among the Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds based on historic animosities will continue after we leave — unless a repressive dictator akin to Saddam Hussein takes over.
Rationally, Iraq should be divided into three separate countries: Kurdistan, Sunnistan, and Shiiastan, either totally independent from one another or, if acceptable to all, loosely confederated.
Afghanistan is even worse. I was intrigued at Brooks' description: “Finally, it is simply wrong to say that Afghanistan is a hopeless, 14th century basket case. This country had decent institutions before the Communist takeover.
“It hasn’t fallen into chaos, the way Iraq did, because it has a culture of communal discussion and a respect for village elders. The Afghans have embraced the democratic process with enthusiasm. I finish this trip still skeptical but also infected by the optimism of the truly impressive people who are working here.”
Note that Brooks is still skeptical.
I do not believe a country that accepted Taliban rule and defeated the undoubtedly brutal efforts of the Soviets to conquer it will ever accept the mores and political systems of the West, nor should they.
Nevertheless, President Obama has decided that the U.S. forces be increased by another 17,000 over and above the 62,000 American troops that we have there now with an additional 4,000 Americans to train an even larger Afghan army.
Our NATO allies are refusing to send more troops except for Great Britain, which is considering sending another 2,000, adding to the 8,300 British troops there now. I have no doubt everybody else will leave us in the lurch and soon, as they did in Iraq.
Let the armed forces of the Arab countries, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the Emirates, provide the Afghans with military assistance.
Why does it have to be primarily us?
Remember the rallying cry of Bobby Kennedy during the Vietnam War days that we are not the policemen of the world.
I believe the description of Afghanistan in an Oct. 5 New York Times article, which details corruption by President Hamid Karzai’s brother, is probably closer to the truth.
The Times reported: “The assertions about the involvement of the president’s brother in the incidents were never investigated . . . even though allegations that he has benefited from narcotics trafficking have circulated widely in Afghanistan . . . The White House says it believes that Ahmed Wali Karzai is involved in drug trafficking, and American officials have repeatedly warned President Karzai that his brother is a political liability . . .”
The Times reported on Feb. 2: “Between platters of lamb and rice, Mr. Biden and two other American senators questioned Mr. Karzai about corruption in his government, which, by many estimates, is among the worst in the world.
“Mr. Karzai assured Mr. Biden and the other senators that there was no corruption at all and that, in any case, it was not his fault. The senators gaped in astonishment.
“After 45 minutes, Mr. Biden threw down his napkin and stood up. ‘This dinner is over,’ Mr. Biden announced, according to one of the people in the room at the time. And the three senators walked out, long before the appointed time.”
The article continued, “At home, Mr. Karzai faces a widening insurgency and a population that blames him for the manifest lack of economic progress and the corrupt officials that seem to stand at every doorway of his government.”
In our country, we are struggling to cope with a rapidly deteriorating economic system. Vast numbers of Americans are worried about their economic future.
Unemployment has reached 8.1 percent, and some economists fear that it will soon reach double digits. Half of the households in the U.S. have invested in the stock market, or have 401(k)s or retirement accounts that own common stock.
These people have seen their capital accounts and savings shrink by up to 50 percent. The declines have occurred in stocks heretofore considered safe. People already retired and on fixed incomes don’t know how they are going to make it financially. The few years they have left are fraught with real dangers and huge anxieties.
We should not be spending billions in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
If the governments of those countries cannot prevent the Taliban and al-Qaida from taking over, our response to attacks upon the U.S. emanating from there should be answered with bombs, not troops on the ground.
We have a president with new ideas bent on changing the ways we provide for medical care, energy and education, while dealing with the current financial crisis that is being compared with the Great Depression and with budget deficits of more than a trillion dollars annually. Some of our leaders believe we can change the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan and make them democratic.
That is a fantasy.
While President Obama does not believe we should be engaged in so-called “nation building,” his statement on “Face The Nation” on March 29, with respect to our roles in both Afghanistan and Pakistan belies that.
He said: “Our plan does not change the recognition of Pakistan as a sovereign government. We need to work with them and through them to deal with al-Qaida. But we have to hold them much more accountable. And we have to recognize that part of our task in working with Pakistan is not just military.
“It’s also our capacity to build their capacity through civilian interventions, through development, through aid assistance. And that’s part of what you’re seeing — both in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I think it is fully resourcing a comprehensive strategy that doesn’t just rely on bullets or bombs, but also relies on agricultural specialists, on doctors, on engineers, to help create an environment in which people recognize that they have much more at stake in partnering with us and the international community.”
I believe there is a limit to what even the U.S. can do, particularly when Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq have political cultures that are totally foreign to us and offend our sense of fairness and justice. Wake up, America.
We haven’t won the war in Iraq and we won’t win it in Afghanistan or Pakistan in traditional terms. Al-Qaida cells, according to the U.S. government, are in 62 countries. The battle will go on for decades to come.
Wherever possible, our response should be to use aircraft, manned and drone. Neighboring countries should put their boots on the ground as those countries have the most to lose.
We should use our special forces to attack and kill the terrorist leadership and not expose our regular army to daily attack.
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